BOSTON — Before each game in every NBA arena, a video featuring Knicks Hall of Famer Bill Bradley airs on the scoreboard and encourages fans to show respect for all the players. As Bradley says, "When the game is at its best, basketball teaches us respect, which is pretty fundamental." That message took on added significance when it aired before Game 3 of the Nets-Celtics first-round playoff series Friday night at TD Bank Garden.
Following the Nets taking a 2-0 series lead on Tuesday at Barclays Center, Kyrie Irving was asked what kind of reception he expects when he plays for the first time in front of Boston fans after leaving the Celtics in free agency two years ago. Irving said he hoped there would be "no racism going on," and when pressed about whether or not he has experienced racism in Boston, Irving added, "It is what it is. The world knows it."
Irving was the last member of the Nets out of the locker room with about eight minutes left until introductions, and he was greeted by a cascade of booing that lasted less than a minute. He exchanged hugs at midcourt with various Celtics personnel.
Irving was the next-to-last Net introduced ahead of Kevin Durant, and Celtics fans greeted him with a sharp increase in the volume of boos, but nothing out of the ordinary. The game marked the final one with just 25% capacity in the building, which is expected to have a sellout for Game 4 on Sunday, so in that respect, the reception for Irving could have been far worse.
But needless to say, Irving heard a chorus of delighted boos when he missed an opening three-point attempt. That was followed a couple minutes later by a brief "Kyrie sucks" chant. But it all was muted effectively when the Nets opened the game on a 19-4 run that included not a single point from Irving. Obviously, the Celtics had their hands full with bigger problems.
Ahead of Game 3 on Thursday, Irving’s charged comments were supported by the Celtics' Marcus Smart, who called upon Boston fans to behave in a respectful manner toward both teams. "We don’t want our crowd to be like that," Smart said. "We want everybody to be respected on and off the court."
When asked if he ever had heard racial taunts directed at opposing players by Celtics fans, Smart pulled no punches. "Yeah, I’ve heard a couple of them," Smart said. "It’s kind of sad and sickening. Even though it’s an opposing team, we’ve had guys on your home team that [hear you] saying these racial slurs, and you expect us to go out there and play for you. It’s tough. Like I said, we just want everyone to be respectful on and off the court."
One Net who was anxious to take the floor at TD Bank Garden was backup guard Bruce Brown, who is a Boston native and who grew up as a Celtics fan. "It’s definitely a lot of excitement to see some of my family and my friends, and then, playing back home is always big," Brown said after the Nets’ shootaround on Friday morning.
Asked how the Nets should approach playing in a hostile environment, Brown said, "We’ve just got to go out there and play hard, execute our game plan. We know what we need to do. Go out there and punch them in the mouth early, and that’ll work."
Brown admitted he experienced racial taunting, at times, as a youth in Boston. He described one incident where a racial slur was directed at him because he was involved in an interracial dating relationship.
"It’s my city, you grow up and try to get used to it, really not think about it too much," Brown said. "I definitely in my high school days experienced a few things for sure. It’s tough, you get through it. I try not to worry about it too much."
As one of the Nets’ best defenders, Brown figured to play a key role in Game 3, especially because forward Jeff Green (strained plantar fascia) will miss the rest of the series. Green has been one of the key defenders on Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who has been held to 15.5 points per game and 9-of-32 shooting through two games.