BOSTON -- While Celtics vs. Nets produced a thrilling heavyweight bout Sunday at TD Garden, there was an equally entertaining undercard: Kyrie Irving vs. the fans.
Celtics fans, as expected, booed Irving mercilessly throughout Game 1 of Boston's first-round NBA playoff matchup with Brooklyn. But the former Celtics guard didn't take the jeering lying down, shooting the middle finger to fans in the front row on multiple occasions throughout the game.
Irving has insisted he's moved on from Boston and its fans since ditching the team in 2019 free agency. So, why engage with Celtics fans in this way and invite even more vitriol?
"Where I'm from, I'm used to all these antics and people being close nearby. It's nothing new when I come into this building of what it's going to be like," Irving said after the Celtics' 115-114 victory.
"It's the same energy they have for me, and I'm gonna have the same energy for them. And it's not every fan. I don't want to attack every Boston fan. But when people start yelling, 'p---y' or 'b---h' and 'f--- you' and all that stuff, there's only so much you can take as a competitor."
Irving has suggested in the past that he's heard some foul language from Celtics fans in his returns to TD Garden, and a fan was caught throwing a water bottle at Irving during last year's first-round playoff matchup.
So, Irving's m.o. appears to be to fight fire with fire.
"We're the ones who are expected to be docile and be humble and take a humble approach. Nah, f--- that. It's the playoffs," Irving said.
"I know what to expect in here and it's the same energy I'm giving back to them. It is what it is. I'm not really focused on it. It's fun. Again, where I'm from, I've dealt with so much, so coming in here, you relish it as a competitor.
"I'm gonna keep repeating myself: This isn't my first time at TD Garden. So what you guys saw and what you guys think as entertainment or fans think as entertainment -- all is fair in competition. So, if somebody's gonna call me out on my name, I'm gonna look at them straight in the eye and see if they're really about it. Most of the time, they're not."
Irving seemed to thrive in his villain role Sunday, pouring in a game-high 39 points on 12 of 20 shooting. He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to erase a double-digit Boston lead and would have been the Game 1 hero if not for Jayson Tatum's buzzer-beating layup as time expired.
Celtics fans likely will continue to jeer Irving in Game 2 on Wednesday night. But they should be prepared for the talented guard to send it right back to them -- and perhaps deliver another big performance as Enemy No. 1.
"Embrace it," Irving said when asked if he feeds off the negative energy from the crowd. "Embrace it. This is the dark side. Embrace it."
Note: Games 2-6 of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series will be aired exclusively on NBC Sports Boston and can also be streamed on NBCSportsBoston.com or with the MyTeams App, which you can download below.