Kyrie Irving electrifies and infuriates, but Celtics can end this profane drama

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Tomase: Irving electrifies and infuriates, but Celtics can end this drama originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It's hard to decide what's more infuriating about Kyrie Irving -- his narcissism and sanctimony, or that he's so damn good.

Both sides of the same gleaming, malignant coin were on equal display during Sunday's Game 1 of the first-round holy war between the Celtics and Nets. Irving flipped off fans on camera not once but twice, and also told a heckler to perform an illicit act. For a guy who loves to lecture Celtics fans about letting go of the past, he sure seems to have a hard time quitting us.

But that doesn't mean he can't torment us, and boy howdy did he sink that dagger within a millimeter of our collective aorta, drilling the kinds of escape-artist shots that once had us hoping he'd raise Banner 18, at least until he nearly burned the whole thing to the ground.

So when Irving attacked in the closing moments with the Nets protecting a one-point lead, Celtics fans could be forgiven for watching through crossed and preemptively crestfallen fingers. He'd already dropped 39 points overall and 18 in the quarter. How would he break our hearts this time?

Celtics Talk: Celtics fans 1, Kyrie Irving 0 after Boston steals Game 1 vs Nets | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Except he tried to play hero and got swallowed up on the wrong end of a Dune sand worm, probing fruitlessly for a hole in the league's No. 1 defense before kicking it to Kevin Durant for a contested 3. And suddenly the Celtics were coming the other way.

As the final seconds vanished and the ball flicked from Al Horford to Derrick White to Jaylen Brown to Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum made a hard cut past a ball-watching Durant. Only Irving remained as the last line of defense, and he flailed as Tatum spun 360 degrees past his outstretched hands for the game-winning layup at the buzzer, vanquishing not just the best No. 7 seed in the NBA, but half of the baggage we've been lugging around with Irving's name on it since he fled to Brooklyn in 2019.

Watching him play turnstile on the game-winner is the definition of poetic justice, because let's face it, it's personal with this guy. He just won't let it be any other way.

When the electrifying Irving wasn't carving up the Celtics, he was chewing out their fans, who booed him with constant fury. He gave one of them the finger on the national broadcast after draining a long jumper to beat the shot clock, and another camera caught him delivering double birds behind his head. He also strangely flapped his arms and exaggeratedly rubbed his eyes like a mime playing a crying baby before throwing an inbounds pass.

For a guy who loves to lecture Celtics fans about letting go of the past, he sure seems to have a hard time quitting us.

John Tomase on Kyrie Irving

Most would label this behavior juvenile and/or classless, but not the perpetually aggrieved Irving, who acted like the first player who's ever been told he sucks.

"There's only so much you can take as a competitor," he said. "We're the ones expected to be docile and humble and take the humble approach. No, (expletive) that. It's the playoffs."

At least this time no one threw anything at him except words, which Irving is uniquely incapable of ignoring. Perhaps he's defensive about the reception he receives in Boston because he can't admit that he caused it by promising he'd stay and then losing us like a defender off the dribble. He'll probably continue admonishing Celtics fans 20 years after he retires, which is textbook projection. He demands love and respect, but doesn't give it. It will always be this way.

TNT's Shaq, Barkley share their take on Kyrie Irving's act in Game 1

But the Celtics have a chance to move on. Win this series, and Irving becomes the ex you thought you couldn't live without and now realize you'll never miss. Win this series, and his departure wasn't the death of a franchise, but a necessary step in the evolution of a legitimate title contender. Win this series, and he can complain about you all he wants, but you'll be done with him.

Win three more games, and we'll know for certain that Kyrie's departure didn't destroy the Celtics, just like facing him now didn't mean the end of the road. If Game 1 is any indication, those three wins won't come easily, because Irving is a problem. His giant rabbit ears won't stop him from hippity-hoppiting his way to 30-plus a night, and you've got to give him this -- the vitriol only fuels him.

Still, the Celtics can win this series and reduce Irving to just another star chasing Tatum and Co. And want to know the best part? He'll be somebody else's problem.

Note: Games 2-6 of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series will be aired exclusively 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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