BOSTON – There was a time when Celtics fans were passionate about Kerry Irving. They can remember the summer of 2017, when Irving forced his way out of Cleveland and landed in Boston, where he delved into the Celtics’ brilliant past and vowed to help this team win.
But in two seasons of Irving with the Celtics, all that sectarian enthusiasm changed into a bunch of different things: tolerance as he struggled with injuries, then patience as he criticized teammates, then something that matched his anger. Because as it became clear that he and Boston were bound. For divorce
On Sunday afternoon, Irving was back in Boston, where an enthusiastic crowd at TD Guard named Game 1 of the Celtics’ first round play-off series, with the Nets booing Irving at every opportunity. When he was coming out of the tourist tunnel he was on his way to the warm-up so they ignored him. During those introductions he found Docker. Whenever he touched the ball, they hit him. And he almost silenced them with another Tour de force throughout his career.
But with the big goal in the opener of the seventh-best competition between the teams, Jason Tatum sent the field into a state of pandemonium on a buzzer that gave the Celtics a 115-114 victory. Game 2 is in Boston on Wednesday.
Irving was fantastic. He finished with 39 points and 6 assists, and his 3-pointer extended the net to 3 with 45.9 seconds left. In the process, he reminded Boston why the city wanted him in the first place, while alleviating all the bitterness. General Chat Chat Lounge
The Celtics were furious at the last minute, though, and after Jaylen Brown had to settle for one, the Nets’ Kevin Durant lost a long 3-pointer. On the other end, Kelix’s Marcus Smart found Tatum, who turned to watch Irving, to split the clock. It was his easiest bucket of the night.
“I think it’s a microcosm of our season: people are moving the ball, playing recklessly,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “It all came together in the last possession.”
Tatum finished with 31 points, and Brown had 23. Smart had an amazingly good game, collecting 20 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Durant had 23 points and only shot 24 of 9.
For the second straight post-season, the Nets and Celtics will meet in the first round. Last time, the Nets advanced to a series of five games that just fueled the dynamic between Irving, who appeared to be stopping at the Celtics’ logo in Mid Court, and Boston fans, one of whom dropped a water bottle on it. Get tired
It also helped make significant changes to the Celtics’ organization. After eight seasons as head coach of the Brad Stevens team, he returned to the front office. His recruiting recruiting partner, a longtime NBA assistant and Gregg Popovich student, who seems to have unlocked Tatum and Brown’s collaborative ability. Remember when the Celtics had a losing record, 23-24, at the end of January? They closed out the regular season by going 28-7.
Enter the Udoka series uniquely familiar with the net. Last season, as one of coach Steve Nash’s assistants, Odoka came to know Irving and Thornton and their gifts.
“They are the top scorers, and they are going to get what they want,” Aduka said before Sunday’s game. “Just keep them in check and don’t let them go.”
In the midst of a bad, badly-beaten start, the Celtics’ top-ranked defense thrashed the Nets, forcing seven first-quarter turnovers. The combined stars of the game – Irving, Durant, Brown and Tatum – combined to miss 12 of their first 14 field goal attempts.
Irving began to move quickly with a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, pulling in the second transfer. Game 61 was closed at half-time before the Celtics began to roll – a shock that had been foreseen on their defense. Late in the third quarter, Jaylen Brown blocked the Nets’ Bruce Brown at the rim, then the other end went in for a layup replacement. The Nets then took their turn, but stopped the jump shot by Tatum Thornton, then hit a 3-pointer to extend Boston’s lead to 11.
Irving was practically unstoppable in the fourth quarter, scoring 9 points on 7-of-18 shooting, which set the stage for the game’s dramatic results.
The Nets won the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs by beating Cleveland Couriers in the play-off tournament on Tuesday. The Celtics had even more dismissals, a whole week to prepare, as they closed out their regular season as No. 2 on April 10. Prior to Sunday’s game, Occa declined a question about rust.
“The vibe with the team is like business,” he added: “We have a good calm about us where I don’t feel like we’re upset or upset.
The Celtics were without Robert Williams, their Rams defense, fourth-year center. Williams was having a breakout season when he underwent meniscus surgery and in his left knee last month. Odoka said the Cillets were preparing as if Williams would not be available for the series, though Odoka did not rule out the possibility – though remote – that Williams might be back. “He is progressing well,” said Aduoka.
Before the game, the Celtics’ game crew made things a little faster on the field video board Shot a quote from Bruce Brown How the Nets can “attack” Williams in the absence of Al Horford and Daniel Day. Haverford was terrific on Sunday, finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds, and he was very dynamic. Williams, of course, only raised the team’s championship hopes.
Nets are also used to wait. They waited for Irving to get vaccinated against the Corona virus, and when he wasn’t ready to do so, they waited for the New York City vaccine’s mandate so he could play in home games. Now, the Nets are waiting – still waiting – for Ben Simmons to take him to court for the first time since they acquired him in mid-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Simmons, who has not played since last post-season, has been dealing with a blunt back since coming to Brooklyn, and no one knows what he would look like if he were to actually take the floor against the Celtics. On Saturday, apparently for the benefit of journalists who were monitoring his progress, Simmons hooked on the practice.
“Make sure you get it,” he told those who were filming him with his cellphone.
On Sunday, Simmons wore mirror sunglasses on a tourist bench as Irving and the rest of the Nate went about their business in a hostile environment. For one afternoon, the Celtics were a more complete team, at least, and in terms of margins, at least.