Kyrie Irving #11 of the Nets looks on before Round...

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Nets looks on before Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at TD Garden on April 17, 2022 in Boston. Credit: Getty Images/Maddie Meyer

In the course of a single playoff game, Kyrie Irving has carved out a special place in history.

Irving has played, talked and obscene-gestured his way to the front of the line of great NBA villains. He has elbowed Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas out of the way and hip-checked Reggie Miller into Spike Lee’s lap.

Unless you are a hardcore Nets fan, a hardcore anti-vaxer or just really dislike the Boston Celtics, Irving has become the player you love to hate.

And that’s just fine with him.

Irving’s 39-point point performance in the Nets’ 115-114 loss to the Celtics on Sunday was so spectacular that the Nets nearly stole Game 1 from the No. 2 seed in Boston. Yet, what got the majority of the buzz wasn’t his 18 points in the fourth quarter or his tone-setting four steals. Rather it was the obscene comment and multiple obscene gestures he exchanged with fans during the game that grabbed all the headlines and the attention of the NBA.

The NBA fined Irving $50,000 Tuesday for "making obscene gestures on the playing court and directing profane language toward the spectator stands." Considering that Irving makes about $380,000 per game, he’s not going to have to clip coupons to pay it. And judging from his comments after Game 1, it’s not going to change his behavior in an arena that he called home for two seasons before coming to the Nets as a free agent three years ago.

“If somebody’s going to call me out of my name [cq], I’m going to look at them straight in the eye and see if they’re really about it,” Irving said of the fans. “Most of the time they’re not.”

A number of former players, most notably Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, have criticized Irving for his behavior, noting that he is not the first player in the history of the sport to have to go back and play a big game in front of a team he left. Yet, it’s notable that both played before social media is what it is today, meaning that they did not have as much direct and constant feedback from fans.

Nets teammate Kevin Durant, who left Oklahoma City for Golden State and then Golden State for the Nets, said Tuesday that what happened between Irving and the Celtics crowd is just “rooted in love.”

“They once loved you. They once cheered for you and bought your merchandise and had life-altering experiences come with the game ang watching you play,” he said after practice in Boston. “When that gets ripped from them with a trade, demanding a trade or wanting to leave, they feel like a piece of them is gone, too. It’s the emotional attachment that they have to professional sports.

“Sometimes it gets a little dark and deep but that’s just how the human brain works. So we understand all of that and the fans understand where we are coming from, too, 'cause we have our own platforms and we speak on stuff like this. It’s healthy once everyone understands both sides.”

In other words, Durant — who has had some high-profile exchanges with fans in the past — doesn’t have a problem with spectators voicing their opinion as long as players can voice theirs back. From a team perspective, this can be a good thing if it can be used by a player as motivation and doesn't become a distraction. Irving managed to do that Sunday, playing his best ball late in the game after he had already flipped off fans at least twice.

It’s hard to imagine that Boston fans will be any gentler Wednesday for Game 2. As much as some might want to see Irving respond by throwing sarcastic kisses to the crowd or even make a Miller-like choke sign, it’s probably not going to happen.

Durant is not making any predictions, not ready to say that Irving is ready to embrace his inner-villain.

“Everybody has different moods,” Durant said. “Some days, he might be up for it. Some days, he might not.

“He understands what his job entails.”