During the postgame congratulations the Nets exchanged following their Game 4 first-round playoff victory to take a 3-1 series lead Sunday night at TD Garden, Kyrie Irving made his way to center court and proceeded to wipe his feet on the head of the Celtics’ leprechaun logo as if it were a giant unwelcome mat.
Whether it was that gesture by Irving or his 39-point, 11-rebound performance that triggered yet another incident of fan violence in an NBA arena, 21-year-old Cole Buckley of Braintree, Massachusetts, threw a water bottle that narrowly missed hitting Irving in the head as he was leaving the arena.
Buckley was arrested and charged with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and he is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Boston Municipal Court. TD Garden later issued a statement supporting the Boston Police action and saying Buckley "is subject to a lifetime ban from TD Garden."
Irving was vilified in Games 3 and 4 with a profane verbal assault from Celtics fans not only because he left the team to join the Nets in free agency two years ago but because he also expressed a hope before the series began that the Boston crowd would not engage in any racial taunting.
Following the water bottle incident, Irving decried "underlying racism" associated with such attacks and "treating people like they’re in a human zoo. Throwing stuff at people, saying things. There’s a certain point where it gets to be too much."
Irving put the incident in historical perspective and also cited similar incidents from these playoffs when the Hawks’ Trae Young was spit upon by at fan at Madison Square Garden, Russell Westbrook was showered with popcorn in Philadelphia and Ja Morant’s family was assaulted by racial slurs from fans in Utah. He said many fans have a sense of entitlement because they purchased a ticket.
"We’re not at the theater," Irving said. "We’re throwing rotten tomatoes and other random stuff at people that are performing. It’s too much, and it’s a reflection on us as a whole when you have fans acting like that . . . We keep saying things like, ‘We’re human, we’re human.’ But we don’t get treated like we have rights when we’re out there at times and people feel entitled to do stuff like that.
"Anything could have happened with that water bottle being thrown at me, but my brothers were around me, I had people in the crowd. So I’m just trying to get home to my wife and my kids."
Irving was asked if he experienced subtle racism during the weekend from Boston fans prior to the water bottle attack. "I’ve experienced some type of subtle racism that I’m referring to where it’s just underlying throughout the game the things that they’re saying," Irving said. "It’s not necessarily about talent or gifts. It’s about moms, or what you look like or the calling you out of your name.
"I just want to keep it up front and truthful. It’s just unacceptable for that stuff to be happening. But we move on."
Naturally, Irving received great support from his teammates. Kevin Durant, who scored 42 points in Game 4, praised Irving’s mental toughness and ability to handle the verbal abuse. He said fans need to "grow up," and he expressed the hope that the Nets can close out the series with a Game 5 victory Tuesday night at Barclays Center to avoid a Game 6 in Boston.
"We know how these people here are in Boston, and we know how passionate they are about Kyrie in particular," Durant said. "And they’re still upset at him. 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."