BOSTON – The Boston Celtics opened up to full capacity just in time for the local fans to jeer and swear — and worse — at Kyrie Irving every time he touched the ball.
It might have been their last chance.
Irving had 39 points and 11 rebounds to quiet the first post-pandemic full house at the TD Garden, and Kevin Durant scored 42 points to give the Brooklyn Nets a 141-126 victory over Boston on Sunday night and a 3-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Afterward, as Irving walked off the court he was nearly hit by a bottle thrown from the stands. Irving and Nets guard Tyler Johnson turned to the stands and pointed; police surrounded a man in a Kevin Garnett jersey before leading him out in handcuffs.
“Fans have got to grow up at some point,” Durant said. “I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic has got a lot of people on edge, has got a lot of people stressed out. But when you come to these games you’ve got to realize: These men are human. We’re not animals. We’re not in the circus.
“You coming to the game is not all about you as a fan. So have some respect for the game. Have some respect for the human beings. And have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn't be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players, or spitting on players or tossing popcorn. So grow the (expletive) up and enjoy the game,” he said. “It’s bigger than you.”
The incident mirrored others in which a Philadelphia fan threw popcorn at Wizards star Russell Westbrook and one in New York spit at Atlanta's Trae Young. Both have been banned from their respective arenas.
A spokeswoman for the TD Garden said Boston Police arrested one person Sunday night “for throwing an object.”
“We have zero tolerance for violations of our guest code of conduct,” spokeswoman Tricia McCorkle said. "And the guest is subject to a lifetime ban from TD Garden.”
But Irving said he didn't think banning or even arresting unruly fans would be enough to solve the problem, ascribing it to “underlying racism and treating people like they’re in a human zoo.”
“People feel very entitled out here,” said Irving, who played for the Celtics from 2017-19 and said last week he experienced racism during his time in the city.
“As a Black man playing in the NBA, dealing with a lot of this stuff, it’s fairly difficult. You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just unacceptable for that stuff to be happening. But we move on.”
“One bad seed doesn’t mean that the whole fruit is poisoned,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. "Our fans have been great. We just had a knucklehead do something knucklehead-ish and it got taken care of, so we’re happy for that.”
James Harden added 23 points and a career postseason-high 18 assists for Brooklyn. Game 5 is in New York on Tuesday night, when the Nets will try to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2014.
The 104 points scored by Durant, Irving and Harden tied an NBA playoff record for three teammates set by Boston's John Havlicek, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens in 1973 and matched in 1986 by Dominique Wilkins, Randy Whitman and Spud Webb.
Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said he wasn’t surprised Irving bounced back after scoring 16 points on 6-for-17 shooting in the Game 3 loss on Friday.
“It’s Kyrie Irving. He didn’t have a great game last time out. My money’s on him any time after a performance he had,” Nash said. ”I loved his will, to take some of this adversity and have a great game.”
Jayson Tatum scored 40 points for the Celtics, following up his 50-point effort in a Game 3 victory. But with Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker out with injuries, Tatum couldn't save the season on his own.
Smart had 16 points and nine assists for the Celtics, who reached the Eastern Conference finals in three of the previous four seasons.
After dropping the first two games in Brooklyn, the Celtics were hoping their home crowd would help them make a series of it. Tatum delivered one win in front of a quarter-capacity crowd on Friday, before the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted as of Saturday.
The Bruins had 17,400 for their playoff game against the Islanders on Saturday — the biggest crowd in the NHL this season. The Celtics left several rows around the benches empty on Sunday and officially announced a sellout crowd of 17,226, about 1,500 fewer than the building’s official capacity.
The fans — most of them attending their first home playoff game in more than two years — gave Durant the New York Yankees treatment in pregame warmups, chanting his name derisively and cheering for each missed practice shot. They were even more foul-mouthed toward Irving, who professed his love for Boston and the Celtics before opting out of his contract in 2019 to join the Nets.
“We know how these people here are in Boston. We know how passionate they are about Kyrie in particular — they’re still upset at him,” Durant said. “That’s no reason for them to act childish. Glad we got the ‘W.’ Hopefully, we don’t have to come back here this year.”
Nets: Durant’s 17 points were the most in the first quarter for a Net since Kenyon Martin’s 17 in Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Finals against the Lakers.
Celtics: Walker (knee) and Robert Williams III (ankle) sat out after playing in the first three games of the series, joining Brown (season-ending wrist surgery) on the injury report.
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