Boston Celtics

Kyrie Irving very nearly ripped Boston’s collective heart out. Instead, Jayson Tatum got the best of him at the game’s biggest moment. And a thrilling ending capped a memorable afternoon filled with strong emotions, particularly from Irving and the Boston faithful.

Irving scored 18 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, and gave the Nets a three-point lead on a clutch shot with just 45.9 seconds left in regulation. That was despite the fact that the majority of the crowd at TD Garden booed Irving heavily whenever he touched the ball, and erupted whenever he made a mistake.

At one point, Irving turned and briefly flipped his middle finger toward the fans after hitting one of his many clutch shots late in the game. So that’ll be one of the series’ indelible images. But he missed out on the chance to deliver the ultimate middle finger and lead the Nets to a win. He and Brooklyn instead face a 1-0 deficit and an uphill climb to overcome the Celtics’ balanced attack and excellent defense over a seven-game series.

Naturally, Irving was asked about his … interactions … with the fans, and in classic form, he had plenty to say. Irving made it sound like he welcomed the Celtics fans’ energy and seemed to imply that he looked tough?

“Where I’m from, I’m used to all these antics and people being close nearby,” Irving said. “It’s nothing new when I come into this building, what it’s going to be like, but that’s the 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 ‘pussy’ and ‘bitch’ and ‘f*** you’ and all this stuff, it’s [only] so much you can take as a competitor. We’re the ones expected to be docile and humble and take a humble approach. Nah, that’s the playoffs, it is what it is. I know what to expect in here, and it’s the same energy I’m giving back to them.

“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, but this isn’t my first time at TD Garden. What you guys saw, and what you guys think is entertainment, or the fans think is 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.”

He cared so little about the fan reaction, he had only 221 words on the matter.

Plenty more will be said about Irving’s singular mix of on-court brilliance and off-court antics. Love him (Nets fans?) or hate him (all of Boston?), he’s one of the game’s most compelling figures, and he delivered in all facets on Sunday. Fortunately for Boston, the Celtics got the last laugh in this one.

PHOTOS: Celtics beat Nets in Game 1 of their playoff series

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    Playing Smart

    Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets defends Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at TD Garden on April 17, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets defends Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at TD Garden on April 17, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Marcus Smart in another year might’ve taken an ill-advised three with two defenders in his face. Instead, his unselfishness and intelligence shined on the game’s final play, as Smart made the best possible decision at the best possible time.

    Smart’s growth as a player and teammate has been one of the keys to the team’s surge in the second half of the regular season, as he’s taken a clear backseat as a scorer to Tatum and Brown. He’s played to his strengths as a facilitator and defender, and taken the shot when the time was right.

    For Smart, in this game, that time came in a sudden 11-point burst over a three-minute stretch in the third quarter, sparked by his steal of Kyrie Irving’s inbound pass and easy dunk. He finished with a box score-stuffing 20 points, six assists, seven rebounds, and two steals, and his all-around game was another microcosm of the Celtics’ balanced effort on Sunday.

  • Size Matters

    Apr 17, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) and Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) work for the ball in the second quarter during game one of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Apr 17, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) and Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) work for the ball in the second quarter during game one of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    One game in, it appears the Celtics present a problem to the Nets. Even without center Robert Williams III, their sheer size and length up and down the lineup is proving tough for the Nets to hang with them in the frontcourt.

    Al Horford scored 20 points on 8-for-13 (61.5 percent) from the floor, largely from the paint and around the rim. He also pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds; the Nets’ five starters had 16 rebounds combined. That included just one for Brooklyn’s Bruce Brown, who called out Horford specifically in comments made about the Celtics’ defense heading into the game.

    It goes beyond Horford. Three Nets starters stood at 6-foot-4 or smaller. Among their entire active roster on Sunday, only Kevin Durant, Andre Drummond, and Nic Claxton stood at 6-foot-10 or bigger. They very nearly overcame those shortcomings, but the size difference showed up in glaring fashion on the final play, when the 6-foot-8 Tatum spun around the 6-foot-2 Irving. This will be something to monitor in the games ahead.

  • Sounds of the Game

    Listen below for a must-hear call from 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell, as they reacted to the Nets and Celtics’ final possessions in what Grande called an “instant classic” Game 1.

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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