By losing to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday and coming within one defeat of getting knocked out of the playoffs, the Boston Celtics may be set up for a rough couple of months. Not only might the team have to reckon with a disappointing season, given expectations last fall, but all-star guard Kyrie Irving could sign elsewhere this summer in free agency.
The possible departure of Irving, the Celtics’ most prominent player, would be a major blow to the squad. However, to hear some Boston fans tell it Monday, they wouldn’t be sorry at all to see him go.
“I’m done with the Kyrie experiment,” said one commenter at the noted fan site Celtics Blog, in the wake of Boston’s 113-101 loss to Milwaukee, which took a 3-1 lead in their second-round series. “I’d rather roll with the young guys. At least they played hard last offseason. Kyrie has killed this team’s chemistry.”
“I WON’T miss the Kyrie era,” another declared. One fan asserted, “Kyrie can go ruin the Knicks franchise for all I care.”
The latter comment was a reference to the widespread rumors that Irving, who is expected to opt out of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent, is interested in joining the Knicks, possibly as part of a pairing with the Warriors’ Kevin Durant, who can also hit the market in a couple of months.
That talk continued after Boston’s latest loss.
“They’ve chosen to give the ball to Kyrie to take them home. He’s shown that he can’t be the best player on a contending team,” Jalen Rose said on ESPN Tuesday morning. “He’s done in Boston. And, you ready for this? [His] teammates will help him pack. They can’t wait for him to leave, either.”
In the meantime, Irving is supposed to be doing what he, at least in theory, does best — displaying uncanny offensive gifts while delivering clutch playoff performances — but that hasn’t been happening of late. After scoring a game-high 26 points, on 12-of-21 shooting, to help the Celtics take a 1-0 lead series lead against the Bucks, the 27-year-old point guard has hit just 19 of 62 shots as Boston has lost three straight.
Naturally, that kind of cold streak isn’t sitting well with his team’s fans, and it didn’t seem to help much that Irving was asked about it after Monday’s loss and replied, “Who cares?” Noting that he took 22 shots in the latest defeat, making just seven, he said, “I should have shot 30, I’m that great of a shooter.”
Of course, Celtics fans should be used to eye-rolling remarks from Irving by now, and not just of the flat-Earth variety. Coming into Monday’s game, he had called himself a basketball “genius” in a recent ESPN feature, and he said after shooting poorly in a Game 2 loss Friday to the Bucks, “From this point on, I don’t think you’ll see another 8 for 22.”
Then there were the comments Irving made during the regular season, several of which were infuriating to Bostonians. After telling Celtics fans in October that he would be re-signing with the team, “If you’ll have me,” he was singing a decidedly different tune in January, saying of his offseason plans, “I’m just going to do what’s best for me . . . I’m not worried about a legacy to leave.”
“I don’t owe anybody [expletive],” Irving added.
In March, with the Celtics stumbling through a portion of their schedule — widely predicted to top the LeBron James-less East this season after getting to the conference finals last year, Boston finished in fourth place with an underwhelming 49-33 record — Irving was caught by TV cameras saying before a game, “I’m not going to miss any of this [expletive] when I’m done playing.” Around that time, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that Celtics sources told him Irving had “become disengaged and detached from those around the team.”
It was left to Durant, of all people, to offer words of reassurance for Boston supporters, as the Golden State star asserted that Irving and Co. would be “fine once the playoffs start.” Initially, it appeared that Durant would be proven correct, as Boston started the postseason 5-0, including a first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers.
However, the wheels have started to come off, and more than a few fingers have been pointed at the person who was supposed to be driving the Celtics’ playoff bus. Referring to Irving’s 2017 demand to be traded away from James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, TNT’s Charles Barkley told viewers on Monday, “Kyrie said, ‘I want to be my own man,’ and now you’re your own man — who’s going on vacation Thursday morning.”
Naturally, some Internet users not emotionally invested in the success of the Celtics were only too happy to make light of the turmoil.
The good news for both Irving and Celtics fans is that the series against Milwaukee is not over, giving the six-time all-star a chance to lead his team to glory and win back some hearts and minds in Boston. In fact, if anyone knows that it’s possible to rally from a 3-1 deficit in an NBA playoff series, it’s Irving, whose Cavs did just that in the 2016 Finals against the Warriors.
Irving happened to hit the most crucial shot of that epic battle, coolly draining a three-pointer in the closing stages of Game 7 to stun Golden State. That went a long way toward solidifying his reputation as a player who saves his best work for the league’s biggest stages, but this year he’s on the verge of exiting the stage under ignominious circumstances.
If that happens, particularly if Irving shoots poorly again Wednesday when the Celtics play Game 5 in Milwaukee, it appears that more than a few Boston fans will volunteer to drive him to Logan Airport. As it was, Irving and his teammates were booed off the TD Garden floor Monday, in what might have been his final game in Boston as a Celtic.
Attendees at Boston’s arena were far from the only ones expressing their displeasure. Amid the postgame grumbling at Celtics Blog, where it was widely noted that Irving was injured last year when the young team went on an unexpectedly deep playoff run, one fan went so far as to wonder if the guard was “throwing this series."
“Maybe I’m getting paranoid, but is he just forcing his way out of here?” asked the fan. “This is the worst basketball I’ve seen from this group, and we’ve seen plenty of bad basketball over the course of this season. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“No one wants to play with Kyrie and the team is the worse off for it,” another commenter wrote. “His bad attitude has everyone playing worse than their abilities and either Kyrie sees this and doesn’t care, or he can’t see that he is the problem. Either way that is not a leader and in no way deserves a contract.”
“Yeah Kyrie can get lost,” a Celtics fan opined at the blog. “This teams needs to find its soul again.”
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