Kyrie Irving of the Nets acknowledges the fans prior to...

Kyrie Irving of the Nets acknowledges the fans prior to Game Five of the First Round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Credit: Steven Ryan


No one wanted to say that more Tuesday night than Kyrie Irving. No one wanted to wave goodbye to the Boston Celtics, their rabid fans and Lucky the Leprechaun more than Kyrie Irving.

Irving played a key role in knocking his former team out of the playoffs Tuesday night , scoring 25 points and shooting 9-for-14 as the Nets defeated the Celtics, 123-109, at Barclays Center.

The victory means the Nets win the first-round series, 4-1, and advance to play Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bucks swept Miami in the first round and are considered by many to be the Nets’ toughest opponent in their quest to make the Finals.

Tuesday night’s game was just the 13th time that the Big 3 — Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant — have been together on the court. During the first-round series, the three combined for an average of 85 points a game. Tuesday night, Harden scored 34 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and made 10 assists. Durant scored 24 and was 4-for-6 from three-point range.

Irving was instrumental in laying the groundwork for this super team as he left Boston and convinced Durant to leave Golden State and they signed as free agents with the Nets, the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in New Jersey.

"Obviously, it wasn’t the easiest transition to deal with," Irving said after the game. "There was a lot going on personally when I was there in Boston that a lot of people don’t know about. So to see the kind of emotions that were lingering on for the last year and a half . . . . I’m just glad it’s settled and we can move on and focus on the rest of this long season that we have ahead."

If there’s anything we have learned in this playoff series, it’s that Boston fans are still bitter about the way he left the team in 2019 after saying the previous year that he would re-sign. The vitriol toward their former All-Star took a dangerous turn following Game 4 Sunday night when a fan hurled a water bottle at him as he was leaving the TD Garden court.

"I think it would be nice for him to finish this and get that whole Boston experience, in a sense, behind him," Nets coach Steve Nash said before Tuesday night’s game.

Nash knows something about what Irving is going through, meeting a team he used to play for in the playoffs. Nash didn’t exactly have a seamless departure from Dallas when he returned to Phoenix as a free agent in 2004. Nash, then 30, had wanted to stay in Dallas, but owner Mark Cuban refused to match the lucrative offer Phoenix made. In his first season with Phoenix, Nash would lead the Suns to a 4-2 win over Dallas in the second round of the playoffs.

Nash indicated that it was important to him to win that series and put that chapter of his life behind him.

"That happened to me playing Dallas in the first year," said Nash, who won two MVPs with Phoenix. "It’s — and I don’t know if [KYRIE] feels the same way, to be honest — but there is a little more to it. I spent six very important, impressionable years of my career in Dallas.

"There were a lot of awkward, strange feelings in that experience. I don’t know how much of that he feels. I haven’t talked to him about it. I would imagine there would be another element of closure to finish off the series."

Irving finally got that closure Tuesday night. No one was happier to say "next."