“BOOston” welcomed Kyrie Irving back

Dallas Mavs superstar Kyrie Irving dribbles the ball up the court. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Dieb/USA TODAY Sports.

By Mingkun Gao and Stella Chen

Boston University News Service

The Green Line was still under long construction, but it could not block people from flocking into TD Garden. It was March 1, the match day.

“I traveled from Syracuse, New York, for this game,” Carl Orman said. “It was a five-hour drive.”

Orman was a fan of Dirk Nowitzki, and now Luka Doncic has become his favorite, he said.

Orman was not alone. A wide range of Mavericks fans drove or flew from miles away hoping to witness Doncic beating Boston. They could not forget the tough home loss in January against the Celtics and wished to win back.

For Dallas, every game matters, or they would be knocked out of the playoffs in no time.

The Boston fans, however, were more lighthearted.

They dressed in green and chatted in queues waiting for their food and drinks. Parents held their children’s hands to buy them a children-sized jersey to support the Celtics. It seemed that they knew they would win no matter who their opponent was.

“Today it’s 10. Sunday’s Golden State. It’s gonna be 11,” said Rick, from Somerville, Massachusetts, who preferred not to give his last name in the interview. He has been a Celtics fan since 1963.

As usual, Rick was in a green suit with shamrock spots. Painting his face with white and green, he wore a pair of shamrock-shaped sunglasses and a corresponding white and green wig. His friend was almost in the same look as him.

They wanted to have a good time and make kids excited, said Rick.

It could have been a regular game in the season, but Kyrie Irving, the former Celtics player, was on the other side of the court.

“You suck Kyrie,” chanted at TD Garden

The moment Irving possessed the ball, hisses started and got loud.

The instant he missed the shot, cheers and applause doubled.

Celtics fans did not like Irving, but Irving himself struggled with his performance. He shot threes but missed. He tried mid-range jump shots but still missed.

“I’m not a big fan of his,” said Rick. “Might be the greatest ball handler to ever play the game, but he’s got a horrible attitude. He doesn’t care about anything.”

Irving played at TD Garden for two seasons from 2017 to 2019. Boston fans recognized his skills but doubted his attitude and leadership.

“The best thing he did for us was leave,” said Gino Garrett of Plymouth, Massachusetts. “He took a very talented team and shot it in the head.”

Garrett was one of the young Celtics fans who kept chanting “Kyrie sucks” even after the game ended. He acknowledged that Irving “dribbles fancy,” but “he’s a terrible person,” Garrett said.

“I’m a Kyrie Irving fan,” said Torrence Brooks, an usher at TD Garden. He described this part-time job as his “entertainment job” because he was a fan of both the Celtics and Bruins.

He met Irving in New York last summer, and Irving took a picture with him, Brooks said with excitement.

I started to understand Boston fans’ complicated feelings toward Irving. They must have had great expectations of Irving to bring back the NBA Championship to Boston, just like what he did in Cleveland, but it turned out to be a false hope.

The Celtics fans could always tell Irving other players even if they had a balcony seat. They knew so well how Irving dribbled, shot and passed. They used to love him so much and that is why they hate him now.

Anyway, it was fun for me to experience Bostonian fan passion. I joined the other Celtics fans and gave Irving a “welcome” gift for his first appearance at TD Garden as a Mavericks player.

When the final whistle blew across the arena, Irving went straight toward the visitor locker room without hesitation while Doncic and other Mavericks players were shaking hands and hugging Celtics team members politely.  

I usually read sports news on HUPU, a Chinese sports social media. I can tell Irving won tons of fans overseas.

Irving’s Chinese fans got up early and watched this game during their Saturday breakfast time. They were upset that Irving had a disaster on defense and did not grab the chance to score while Doncic was on the bench.

Irving was rated five out of 10 on HUPU with thousands of comments on his play.

“He was like playing the game in front of tons of his ex-girlfriends watching,” a Chinese fan commented on HUPU. 

Some fans blamed the boos and Boston fans’ disrespect for Irving’s poor play, while some counted the days and assumed that he might be influenced by the upcoming Ramadan.

Porzingis was the key for Boston to win

When I prepared my interview for the game, I noted down Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for the Celtics, Luku Doncic and Kyrie Irving for the Mavericks. As superstars, they must dominate the game and lead their team to the win.

Boston fans had different opinions. They did not agree with me but coincided with one another – Kristaps Porzingis.

“Without him, we’re not going to win it,” said Brooks before the second half.

“Dallas does not have a big center and they have no answer for him,” said Rick. “They’re gonna double-team Tatum. They’re gonna double-team Brown. So Porzingis is gonna have his way inside.”

The fans were right. Porzingis scored 13 points in the first quarter, leading the Celtics with his three-pointers and intimidating blocks.

I was so amazed by Porzingis. He was no longer that slim 7-foot-2-inch rookie in my memory. He became stronger and more tactical on the court. I eventually understood the legend of “The Unicorn.”

If the Celtics had not brought Porzingis to Boston last summer, they would not have led the league and won more than 45 games at the beginning of March. Porzingis successfully solved the problems when both Tatum and Brown were struggling with tight defense.

Porzingis also played for the Mavericks from 2019-2022, but his longtime knee injuries limited his moves. I could never imagine how much pain he had to suffer off the court.

Thanks to the current medical technology and his strong will, “The Unicorn” got back to the court again.

In 2023, Porzingis joined the Celtics and filled the role that Robert Williams III used to play. 

For Mavericks fans, Porzingis was always an outstanding center and a wonderful three-pointer.

“He made, I think, four or five threes already,” said Jack, who wore a Mavericks Jersey and preferred not to tell his last name. He had been impressed by Porzingis’ play in the first half, Jack said.

This was every night thing for Doncic, Tatum and Brown

“I thought Tatum could’ve done a little better as far as shooting the ball, but they’re playing okay,” said Brooks.

Tatum left little impression on me in the first half. I could see Porzingis, Brown and Jrue Holiday, but where was Tatum?

He turned into his offensive mode in the second half, making sidestep threes and ripping through the paint for layups.

Tatum made the top score in the team, 32 points, that night.

Brown was consistent in his defense, though he got his second personal foul only four minutes after the jump ball.

He dominated the paint and also made the key three in the third quarter.

It would never be news now for Tatum and Brown to score twenties or thirties in the game.

As for Mavericks fans, they had more expectations of their leader Doncic.

“I am looking forward to Luka to drop 50 points and beat the heck of the Celtics,” said Orman.

However, Luka only got 37 points with 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Although Luka recorded a triple-double again, the Dallas star player’s talent was tied down by Boston’s strong defense.

Passing the ball to Doncic and letting him score is the Mavericks’ typical tactic. It helped the team score points quickly but failed to stop their opponents from shooting more answer balls.

Mavericks fans from China, according to HUPU, blamed Jason Kidd, the head coach of Mavericks, for being so stubborn that only used his “Luka Tactic” all the time. Facing the Celtics, which is known as the best team excellent in both offense and defense, the Mavericks were tactless.

“It’s a tough game,” said Fabian and Jesus Linares from Dallas. “And the Celtics are absolutely the best team in the NBA now.” Fabian acknowledged in a sad voice. 

Dallas focuses on the next game while Boston dreams big

“I am not focusing on the future,” Jesus said. Instead of being concerned about entering the playoffs, he wanted to pay more attention to the following Mavericks game against the Sixers.

The Mavericks dropped to eighth in the Western Conference. But there is no doubt that they are still a potential playoff team.

On the contrary, the Celtics fans were satisfied with the result.

“It was phenomenal,” Garrett said. “We’re the best team in the NBA. It’s a treat watching this team night in and night out.”

Garrett was so excited that he expected the Celtics to be more competitive in the playoffs.

“I think it’s not ‘Will they win the finals?” It’s ‘How many games is it gonna take?’” he said.

From my perspective, the Bucks and the Nuggets will still be the biggest opponents on Boston’s way to winning the championship, but I have a strong feeling that I will be at TD Garden again in May to witness this huge honor arrive in Boston.

*Mingkun Gao and Stella Chen collaborated on the story and peer-reviewed the column. Gao covered the Celtics’ side, and Chen covered the Mavericks’ side. To make it consistent, all columnists’ opinions were in first-person pronouns.

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