BOSTON – The TD Garden crowd was primed for a hateful homecoming celebration for departed free agent Kyrie Irving, and the fans would not be denied. Even though Irving was not in the building while sitting out his seventh straight game with a right shoulder injury, they chanted “Kyrie sucks!” just after the Nets were introduced, and it reverberated throughout the game.
Even though Irving was a no-show, it felt as if Boston fans got their pound of flesh and taste of revenge when the Celtics pulled away late for a 121-110 victory over the Nets.
Late in the third period, the Nets had a one-point lead moments after point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went to the bench. When he returned with 7:51 left to play, the Celtics held a 104-92 lead following a 22-9 run while Dinwiddie sat. The Nets cut their deficit to three points, but that was as close as they got.
Asked if the Nets are struggling when Dinwiddie sits, coach Kenny Atkinson said, “I can’t play him 48 minutes. (Second unit guards Theo Pinson and Dzanan Musa) have done a good job of holding the fort. I’m going to stick with those two.”
When teams can begin making trades in mid-December, the Nets easily could entertain the notion of acquiring another experienced point guard because Irving has only played at least 70 games three times in his career. But when Atkinson was asked about the possibility of trade considerations, he said, “Not at this moment. I trust that unit. The guys know the system. We’re staying status quo.”
Kemba Walker paced the Celtics (13-4) with 39 points, and Jaylen Brown added 22 and 10 rebounds. Garrett Temple topped the Nets (9-9) with 22 points, Joe Harris added 21, Jarrett Allen had 17 and 14 rebounds, and Dinwiddie totaled 16 on a rough 5-of-19 shooting night. But the Celtics held a commanding 55-38 advantage on the boards, and that’s what Atkinson identified as the chief reason for the loss.
“It really was the rebounding,” Atkinson said. “You can’t give an elite team that many extra shots and possessions. That was the story of the game. Kemba had a great game, but we defended well enough to win. It was the rebounding that made the difference.”
That wasn’t the story of the game for Boston fans. They took every opportunity to express their disdain for Irving. At times, they chanted, “Where is Kyrie?” Atkinson said it was determined that it was best for Irving to do his rehab in Brooklyn. “I tuned it out.,” Atkinson said.
The Nets came in riding a 5-1 streak without Irving, but they get another shot at the Celtics Friday at Barclays Center.
Asked about how the Nets handled the mean-spirited vibe from the Boston crowd, Dinwiddie said, “I had no preconceived notions. He’s not here. Whatever they had to say, I mean he heard it through the TV I’m sure, but he didn’t hear it here.”
As for how the offense struggled late in the game without him, Dinwiddie expressed support for his teammates, saying, “You can’t judge any unit, any player, anybody on one game. We have capable players 1-15. Everybody.”