BOSTON — Boston Celtics fans spent much of Wednesday night gleefully needling old friend Kyrie Irving about his absence from his new team’s first game in Boston. Fans loudly inquired about Irving's whereabouts, then switched it up to suggest that Irving is bad at his vocation. As Jayson Tatum would correctly note, "I mean, we all know Kyrie don’t suck.”
True, but since when do fans allow facts to get in the way of a good emotional purging?
Many Boston fans still feel betrayed that Irving would profess his intention to re-sign here and then call an in-season audible to join forces with buddy Kevin Durant in Brooklyn. Some fans remain upset that Irving’s general unhappiness contributed to a disastrous Boston season that fell woefully short of expectations and led to a roster haul far heftier than expected this summer.
Irving telegraphed his plan to avoid this initial return to Boston, sitting out recent games due to a right should impingement. Unfazed, Celtics fans hung signs outside TD Garden suggesting Irving was as cowardly as the Wizard of Oz lion, then 19,156 fans piled into the arena with an assortment of signs that pledged an allegiance to both the team’s new All-Star point guard (Walker) and a new No. 11 in town (Enes Kanter).
Walker erupted for a season-high 39 points — this just five days after he was stretchered off the court in Denver — helping Boston to a 121-110 triumph. That Walker played and Irving did not spoke volumes alone.
But an hour after the game, Irving took to social media and posted a 300-word screed (evidently a shoulder impingement doesn’t impede your typing abilities) in which he suggested sports mean “very very little in the real world” and decried how, “the game isn’t meant to be controlled and shown as a drama.”
Like many of Irving’s postgame ramblings here, it was hard to parse his intensions given the verbose nature of his post. It needed a TL;DR — “I don’t appreciate fans booing me.”
A few minutes before Irving's post to his Instagram story, Jaylen Brown, one of the players who best handled last year’s headaches, might have offered the finest perspective from inside the Celtics’ locker room.
"I think everything worked out for the better for everybody,” said Brown. "I don’t think anybody in Boston should have anything to complain or boo about, to be honest. I think we’re winning, playing good basketball, the Celtics look good, Boston fans should be nothing but happy. I think the energy should shift from that to being more positive.”
He’s not wrong. The Celtics, as an organization, have tried really hard since Irving officially declared his intention to return home in late June to take the high road. Boston players, coach, and front office staff have all been emphatic that not all the blame for last year’s struggles fall on Irving and players like Brown have gone out of their way to make public comments that us shade-craving reporters might have yearned for.
That pattern continued after Wednesday’s game. Brown said he thought the Irving chants were probably “unfair.” Tatum admitted they were odd. Walker said he didn’t pay attention to them.
All the Irving attention took away from another quality victory for a team that’s now 13-4 overall and tied for the fourth-best record in basketball. Walker has been everything that Irving is not, from his perma-grin demeanor to fully embracing the younger players around him, to being all-in on Boston.
The only downside to Irving avoiding the game is that the storyline lingers. It’ll bubble up again Friday in Brooklyn, then it’ll jump up when the Nets return here in March. If Irving doesn’t play in that game it might just fester until 2020 or 2021, whenever Irving gets around to visiting the arena where he previously wanted to hang No. 11.
Heck, closure might never come. Irving doesn’t go back to Cleveland very often. That’s just part of the ultra-talented package. Teams have to sacrifice a little bit of themselves to cater to a star. And he still might leave you despite it all.
Alas, that’s the danger with free agency. The Celtics knew that when they traded for Irving. The two-year dice roll was still worth the pain points that emerged.
Celtics fans got to release some pent-up emotions Wednesday night and it clearly resonated wherever Irving was watching from afar. Both sides should probably just move on. As Brown noted, everybody got what they wanted. Irving is back near his New Jersey roots with one of his best basketball buddies to lend support. The Celtics swapped in another All-NBA guard who is everything that a Boston fan has ever wanted and has the Celtics eyeing a path back to title contention.
With the lessons learned from last season, Brown has elevated his play. Tatum has a better shot profile and more of a killer instinct. Marcus Smart is getting MVP chants, not just for retrieving lodged balls with a mop, but for embodying all that it means to wear the Celtics uniform.
The Kyrie experiment didn’t go exactly to plan. It happens. The Celtics might not be so optimistic about where this team is headed without the lessons learned last season.
Celtics fans have a lot to be thankful for on this holiday. Instead of lingering on the negative of a year ago, they should follow Brown’s advice and celebrate the positives that they have.
And, hey, the Instagram screed is a friendly reminder of what they DON’T have to deal with any more, too.
Get ready for Celtics-Nets on Friday with Celtics Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., then Mike & Scal have the call at 12 p.m. on NBC Sports Boston, or you can stream them here through the MyTeams App.