The hype video shown on the TD Garden scoreboard before the Celtics’ starting lineup is introduced is loud enough that it becomes tough to talk to the person next to you while it is playing.
And yet on Wednesday night, before Boston’s 121-110 win over the Nets, the montage was briefly drowned out by a simple, angry and emphatic chant that cascaded down from most of the 19,156 fans in attendance: “Kyrie sucks!”
When the NBA schedule was released last summer, this game instantly became one of the league’s most alluring. Irving’s return to Boston, since everything went sour and he left to join the Nets.
Boston fans could not do anything about that decision, of course, but they could stand in the same building as him and let him know how they felt about it, and this was going to be their chance. And then Irving was sidelined with a shoulder injury — a malady that invited some skepticism — and the Nets came to Boston without him.
He was not here to be heckled, but the fans spent much of the night doing it anyway because they had to let it out. So the “Kyrie sucks” chants were mixed with “Where is Kyrie?” Some fans held up handmade signs, and others wore Irving’s old No. 11 shirts and jerseys, altered to show they do not like him anymore.
And while this was all going on, while this unusual Irving-based soundtrack poured down, the Celtics and the Nets played a basketball game that Irving had no part in.
As it went on, the focus on Irving mostly began to subside, and everyone was reminded that Irving’s replacement isn’t so bad, either.
Kemba Walker, who just five days earlier was immobilized on a stretcher when the Celtics feared he had suffered a serious neck injury, returned and unleashed his most powerful performance as a Celtic. The All-Star point guard made 13 of 24 shots and tallied 39 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
When he went to the free-throw line with the game wrapped up late in the fourth quarter, the chants had shifted from Kyrie-centric to “MVP!” And when Walker went to the bench with just over a minute left, he received a standing ovation.
Walker mostly shrugged when he was asked about having such a command performance so soon after his scary incident in Denver.
“I’ve been over it,” Walker said. “I mean, I could have played last game, honestly. But if I’m on the court, I’m on the court. That’s really it.”
Although Irving was not there to hear the fans’ displeasure, he apparently heard it on television. About an hour after the game, he posted a lengthy response on his Instagram story in which he fired back at the negativity.
“This game of sports entertainment matters more than someone’s mental health and well-being, right?” Irving wrote, in part. “Or the real life things that happen to people every day but they still have to perform for the NBA and its fans? Right? It’s about doing it for the fans and the organization that love you so much? Think again. It’s a game.”
Walker said he didn’t really pay attention to the chants. Jaylen Brown said he thought they were unfair. Jayson Tatum thought they were odd, especially considering Irving was not there.
“I mean, we all know Kyrie don’t suck,” Tatum said. “So just focus on the game.”
And for the Celtics, the game was an encouraging one. They overcame a scorching second quarter in which the Nets drilled 10 3-pointers, and they surged back from a six-point halftime deficit and outscored Brooklyn, 64-47, after the break.
Brown tallied 22 points and 10 rebounds. Boston made 22 of 24 free throws, and snagged 19 offensive rebounds, leading to 25 second-chance points.
Garrett Temple led the Nets with 22 points, and Brooklyn made 21 of 56 3-pointers overall. The Nets found themselves in the unusual position of listening to a night full of heckles that were at once directed at their team, but not at them.
Jarrett Allen said the fans were actually not as bad as he thought they would be.
“It could have been the whole game, them booing us every time we touched the ball,” he said. “If Kyrie was here, it probably would have been 10 times worse.”
Irving is likely to return from his shoulder ailment someday soon. It remains to be seen if that day will be Friday, when these two teams meet again in Brooklyn. While that game will be played in somewhat more friendly confines, the Barlcays Center usually has a noticeably green tint when the Celtics arrive anyway.