Kyrie Irving coming back to Boston for the first round of the NBA playoffs?
It’s too good to be true. And it’s not certain yet. But if the Nets win their play-in game Tuesday at home against Cleveland, get ready for sage-burning Kyrie to come back to the Garden to stomp on Lucky the Leprechaun this coming weekend.
The Celtics beat the declawed Memphis Grizzlies, 139-110, in their regular-season finale in Memphis on Sunday to secure the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed for the upcoming playoffs. Memphis, which had already secured the No. 2 seed in the West, had nothing to gain by winning the game and rested four starters to give the Celtics an easy win.
This means you could see Kyrie coming to a gym near you sometime very soon. That’s Kyrie Irving: the one who promised he would re-sign here, then choked in the 2019 playoffs and took no responsibility; the one who last spring called out Boston for “subtle racism” when the Nets were bouncing the Celtics out of the playoffs; the one who says Celtic fans are like scorned girlfriends, desperately waiting for text messages; the one who won’t get vaccinated (“I don’t want anyone telling me what to do with my life”) and almost blew up his team’s entire season.
A lot of tumblers had to fall into place Sunday to set up with this potential matchup. The Bucks had to lose. The Celtics had to win. The Nets had to win to secure home court for Tuesday’s play-in game with Cleveland.
It was Tank-a-Palooza Sunday across the NBA. We had teams trying to win, teams trying to lose to win, and teams who just plain didn’t care. I haven’t seen folks throwing games like this since Bill Belichick had Matt Cassel loft a 2-point conversion toss to Patriot cheerleaders when the Pats wanted to lose their regular-season finale in 2005. It was as if half the NBA had Pittsburgh Pirate Syndrome.
The Griz were in the “Just Don’t Care” category. This made things easy for Boston coach Ime Udoka, but there still had to be some hesitancy about going for the win against the Memphis Nobodies. When the Celts let the Griz claw to within 3 (34-31) early in the second, I wondered if maybe Boston was downshifting into tank mode to avoid Kyrie and Co., but the Green blew it open, led 72-49 at halftime, and 104-79 after three quarters.
So let it never be said they dodged Kyrie and Kevin Durant when they had the chance. Oh, and just so you know, there are also reports that Ben Simmons is almost ready to play basketball for the first time since last June.
There was plenty of risk-reward in Boston’s final regular-season game. The Celts went in knowing that a win probably meant Brooklyn, but a loss was likely to result in the Celtics playing Toronto in the first round and that would amount to a public outing for any unvaccinated Boston players. (Is that you, Jaylen Brown?)
There was no certainty to anything because the Sixers were playing the Pistons at the same time the Celtics were playing the Griz. The Sixers stood to avoid Toronto (Philly swingman Matisse Thybulle is unvaccinated) with a win over Detroit and a Boston loss to Memphis, but Sixers coach Doc Rivers evidently didn’t see the upside or the likelihood. Doc had to assume Boston was going to beat Memphis’s Dave Clark Five.
The Sixers and Celtics both wanted the No. 3 seed because that meant playing Chicago — a first-round layup . . . but the Bucks beat everybody to it. Milwaukee had a day game with Cleveland, mindful that a loss would effectively guarantee the three seed. Accordingly, the world champs benched all five starters, fell behind 79-46 at halftime, and lost to the Cavs in style. Hello, Chicago.
A couple of weeks ago, Udoka admitted teams “try to manipulate what they can” when it comes to playoff seeding at the end of a regular season. He demonstrated this when he tanked the Celtics game at Milwaukee last week, but admitted it was going to be hard to maneuver things Sunday night — because Philly was playing at the same time.
“We look at every scenario and conclude what we can,’’ said Udoka. “But it’s hard to manipulate anything.’’
In this spirit, Udoka chose to go with his stars, beat Memphis, and take his chances with Kyrie and KD. The Celtics weren’t about to lose to Five Guys You’ve Never Heard Of. Not even with the prospect of Kyrie in the first round staring them in the face.
“We just wanted to continue good habits,’’ Marcus Smart told NBC SportsBoston, insisting that he didn’t care whether the Celtics play the Nets or the Cavs.
“Everybody’s talking about Brooklyn, but they still have a play-in game to win,’’ said Udoka. “It’s not cut and dried.’’
He’s right, of course. If Cleveland somehow upsets Brooklyn on Tuesday night, Boston gets the Cavaliers in the first round.
Which would be no fun at all.
Bring on Kyrie and the Nets.