Two words describe what the Nets can expect when they enter TD Bank Garden for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Friday night against the Celtics – "hostile environment." The target of the hostility will be Kyrie Irving, who left the Celtics two years ago to sign with the Nets as a free agent after previously saying he wanted to be a "Celtic for life."
Irving has played in Boston once since joining the Nets, but it was on Christmas Day last December when no fans were permitted in the building because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He sat out two previous visits with a shoulder injury in his first season with the Nets.
After the Nets’ Game 2 victory on Tuesday that gave them a 2-0 lead, Irving was asked what kind of reception he expects, and he raised the possibility that he might face a degree of racial intolerance. "Hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball," Irving said. "There’s no belligerence or racism going on. People yelling [expletive]- from the crowd. But even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game, and we’re just going to focus on what we can control." Asked if he ever experienced racism in Boston, Irving said, "I am not the only one who can attest to this. It is just, you know…It is what it is. The world knows it."
TD Bank Garden seats 19,580 fans but will accommodate just 25% of that figure for Game 3. However, the Celtics plan to admit a capacity crowd for Game 4 on Sunday.
After practice on Thursday, Nets coach Steve Nash, who is a Hall of Fame player who performed many times in Boston, was asked if there are lines fans should not cross in terms of how they treat opposing players.
"There’s a line for sure," Nash said. "You don’t want fans to cross that line. Players definitely have even a firmer line how they accept that. I would say that 90% of it, hopefully, is positive, that we go into a hostile environment and we welcome it. We enjoy it, and we want the vitriol as long as it’s not over the line.
"We want to face some adversity. That noise and energy coming from the opposing fans is something that can spur your team on. It’s a challenge to help you lock in and be more focused. There’s no better feeling than playing well on the road, especially in the playoffs."
Nash said he has not talked to Irving about how to handle the Boston crowd or what sort of reaction he expects. He is relying upon Irving to react with his veteran instincts.
"He’s an all-world basketball player," Nash said. "I think he’s quite comfortable in hostile environments. I’m sure he’ll relish the opportunity. There’s a line, but crossed or not, Ky can handle that, no question…and has done so his whole career."
Veteran Blake Griffin said this will be his first playoff game in Boston, and he is expecting and even looking forward to a rowdy crowd. At the same time, he said he hasn’t discussed the situation with Irving.
"It’s kind of an understood thing," Griffin said. "When you go into certain places, you know it’s going to be a rowdy crowd. Each arena is different, each state, each city is a little different. I’ve heard things throughout my time in the league. Never played a playoff game in Boston.
"I have a lot of respect for the fans in Boston. They know the game, they’re loud, they support their team. You just hope it stays like that and doesn’t cross any lines. I’m not going into it with that expectation because I haven’t had that experience and it’s just kind of how I operate."
Notes and quotes: Veteran forward Jeff Green [strained plantar fasci]) likely will miss the remainder of the series because he will be out a minimum of 10 days.