This weekend, the Boston Celtics beat the Brooklyn Nets in game 1 of their first round playoff matchup in a thrilling game featuring a Jayson Tatum buzzer-beater. However, it was not the game itself that anyone was talking about afterwards. Once again, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics crowd were going at it all night long. The fans were drowning him with boo’s while Irving reacted by portraying a certain finger to the crowd. This is not the first time we’ve seen this from Irving and the Boston faithful and it seems to get more dramatic every time they meet. But how did we get to this point? Let’s take a look at the history between them.
Act 1: The Trade
In August of 2017, the Boston Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a future first-round pick. The Celtics also signed Gordon Hayward that offseason to pair up with their talented young core, making it very clear their intentions to compete for an NBA championship. While fans were excited to acquire a perennial all-star and NBA champion, they were still upset to see fan favorite, Isaiah Thomas leave. Thomas enjoyed some success in Boston, including a trip to the Eastern Conference finals the year before. Nevertheless, both sides were still in good spirits and excited for the future at this point.
Brian Babineau/Getty Images
Act 2: The 2018 NBA playoffs
Irving’s first season in green was a very interesting one for the Boston Celtics. It began with Gordon Hayward suffering a gruesome injury on opening day, ending his season. Irving and the Celtics still enjoyed a successful season however, with Kyrie being named an all-star game starter and the Celtics earning the two seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, Irving’s season ended early due to a knee injury and he was unable to compete in the playoffs. The young guys played incredibly well without him, going all the way to the Eastern Conference finals and up 3-2 before losing to Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While there still weren’t signs of tension yet, the Celtics were able to achieve a lot without Kyrie Irving. Expectations were going to be even higher the next season and the young guys were coming in with a lot more confidence.
Act 3: Broken Promises
Before the following season began, Kyrie expressed his interest in re-signing with the Celtics, however he must’ve had his fingers crossed.
Adding Kyrie and Gordon Hayward to a team that just made it to the ECF proved to be difficult. While the Celtics finished with a solid 49-33 record, there was a clear lack of chemistry between the players. Irving even called out his team’s work ethic during the season.
Meanwhile, the rumors of him leaving the Celtics were starting to form. In an interview before a game against the New York Knicks, Kyrie was asked whether he still plans to sign an extension with Boston. He replied, “Ask me July 1st.” While not specifically saying he was going to leave, it’s not something someone says if they’re really interested in resigning.
This all escalated the rumors with Irving potentially joining Kevin Durant in a new city, who was also set to be a free agent that summer. A few weeks following his interview before the Knicks game, video of Irving and Durant at the all-star game emerged and the two seemed to be having a very engaging chat. There was no going back from this point on. The mainstream media took this story and it was the talk of the entire season. It’s extremely difficult to build chemistry and have a successful season when all the media is talking about is how your star player has one foot out the door. The Celtics would lose in the second round of the playoffs to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games.
At the start of the season, Irving announced his intent to return to the Celtics organization. After the season, tides had totally shifted. The writing was on the wall: Kyrie Irving was going to be playing for a different team.
Act 4: Where Brooklyn At?
The following Summer, Kyrie Irving signed a contract to join Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets. Celtic fans didn’t feel backstabbed due to the way the previous season had ended, but they were still ready to show their frustrations with how he handled the situation. Irving ended up missing all three games against the Celtics in his first season due to a shoulder injury. Even without Kyrie, the Celtics fans still let him hear it in their home game against the Nets, with a lot of anti-Irving chants throughout the game.
With no Irving on the court, things wouldn’t get too hostile between the two sides. Brooklyn would end up getting swept in the first round by the Toronto Raptors without Irving and Durant. Meanwhile the Celtics once again made it to the ECF before losing to the Miami Heat in the NBA bubble.
While Kyrie was absent for the first few matchups against the Celtics, it would be Celtic fans absent for the next ones. Due to Covid-19, the NBA began the 2020-21 season without fans in the crowd. So, Irving decided to poke fun at Celtic fans a bit in the empty arena. In a preseason game against the Celtics, Irving burned sage on the court before the game.
Irving and the Brooklyn Nets would play one more game in Boston before meeting in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets would dominate that series, winning in five games, but it’s not the actual basketball played that series is remembered for. After winning game four Irving, while walking to center court to high-five his teammates, wiped his shoe on the Celtic logo. Following that display one fan decided to throw a water bottle at Irving while he walked to the locker room.
This seemed like the boiling point of the Irving-Celtic rivalry, of course until this weekend. The saga is likely far from over with no end in sight. The Celtics currently hold a 2-0 series lead on the Nets as the two teams head to Brooklyn to play on Saturday night.