With the Celtics in control of the series, will Kyrie Irving check out on the Nets?

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Tomase: With C's in control, is Kyrie Irving about to quit on the Nets? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Jayson Tatum drilled a mammoth 3-pointer with two minutes left on Wednesday, triggering bedlam. As TD Garden erupted, the camera settled on Kyrie Irving, who stared vacantly.

Celtics fans know that look. Irving wore it during his final days in Boston, when he egregiously quit on a second-round series against the Bucks. Milwaukee won four straight by an average of 16 points and Celtics coach Brad Stevens probably should've benched Irving in the Game 5 finale, when he spent multiple defensive possessions just spinning slowly in place like a broken bubble hockey short stick.

His willful passivity was infuriating, but what could the Celtics do? Irving held all the power. Though the C's publicly maintained hope that he'd honor his word and sign an extension, we knew better. No one could quit on a team like that if he had any intention of re-signing. Six weeks later, he headed home to Brooklyn.

Celtics Talk: Derrick White on Celtics' defense, bench contributions with team up 2-0 over the Nets | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

There's this little thing called karma, however, and Irving would be the first to tell you it's real, albeit in the most ponderous, factually dubious, and self-absorbed way. He's probably less interested in hearing what else karma notoriously is, but he's about to find out.

As this first-round melee heads back to New York with the Celtics up 2-0, the question that should be on everyone's mind is simple: will Kyrie quit on the Nets?

He's done it before and it's easy to picture how he might do it again: The Nets lose two straight at home, Steve Nash gets fired, and Irving sits at the podium with a condescending smile, miffed that he must explain how he's not defined by a game, and that in this journey through the consciousness of the human condition, every experience represents growth, and the real issue is like, Nepal or microchips or something.

Perhaps quitting is Irving's twisted way of reclaiming the narrative. The Celtics didn't beat him, he walked away. We're not there yet, but the fact that such an outcome is legitimately on the table with one of the most talented players in the history of the game probably explains why his last two organizations are now better off without him, a lesson the Nets may one day learn, too.

Having seen this act before, we'd advise Nets fans to prepare for the worst. These Celtics punch people in the mouth, and Irving's jaw ain't exactly titanium.

Despite two rousing victories by the Celtics, Irving has still managed to make the series about him. He did so in Game 1 with a performance that was alternately scintillating and disgraceful, scoring 39 points while flipping obscene gestures at Celtics fans who dared harangue him, as if he's the first player to hear salty language. It was an inexcusable display by a thin-skinned narcissist, and a black eye for a league that routinely delivers the best fan experience.

That defiance did not carry into Game 2. Every time Irving tried to dig into his bag, Marcus Smart was there to snatch it. The newly minted Defensive Player of the Year hounded Irving into a quiet 10-point night on 4-of-13 shooting, and by the time Tatum splashed his dagger 3, Irving looked ready to slink out of town.

He swapped the rancor he had displayed after Game 1 with admiration for Boston's young core, a bipolar swing that's also an Irving trademark. "Their window is now," he declared magnanimously, sounding strangely upbeat.

If you're Kevin Durant, this circus must be exhausting. The Nets couldn't make it work with James Harden and shipped him to Philly for a broken-down Ben Simmons. They spent most of the season only using Irving on the road, thanks to New York's vaccine rules. When they opened this series hoping to atone for their disappointing regular season, they instead were treated to Irving's profane outbursts towards fans he can't understand will hate him for the rest of time because that's what fans do.

Whether they really got to him in Game 2 or he's already starting to check out mentally remains to be seen. We should know early in Saturday's Game 3 whether Irving is determined to extend this series or get on with his summer.

Having seen this act before, we'd advise Nets fans to prepare for the worst. These Celtics punch people in the mouth, and Irving's jaw ain't exactly titanium.

Note: Games 2-6 of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series will be aired on NBC Sports Boston and can also be streamed on NBCSportsBoston.com or with the MyTeams App, which you can download below.

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