WALTHAM, Mass. – As much as the outside world wants to concentrate on the subplots to Kyrie Irving’s Opening-Night return to Cleveland, Irving just doesn’t care.
Every time he’s asked about it, he laughs at the question, including Sunday afternoon following practice.
“It’s just hoops, man,” he said after being asked if he needs to brace himself for the Cleveland crowd. “That’s it.”
It’s hard to believe that Irving can contain his emotions and compartmentalize the scenario to such a level, but it appears that he has done so. Irving is excited for the actual game to arrive, as compared to the fireworks that will surround it.
“The excitement and the energy is there, but I think everything extra has been created by outside influence,” Irving said. “So that’s neither here nor there.
“I don’t necessarily concern myself with that,” he continued, “because if I do I’d really be doing myself a disservice and my teammates a disservice of trying to figure out whether or not I want to give some distractions, or certain people, energy in terms of what they’re saying or what they think about what’s going on.”
What’s going on Tuesday night in the eyes of the four-time All-Star? A basketball game, and nothing else.
“I think that when he’s on the court between those lines,” said Brad Stevens, “that’s all he’s thinking about: how to play well.”
Ever since his arrival in Boston, reporters have insinuated to Irving that Opening Night will be a challenge to the level of which he has never before faced. However, the 25-year-old is confident that he’ll be able to sidestep the outside noise while calling upon his past experiences.
“I’ve been in Game 7 in [Oakland], and playing in a high-intense environment,” he said, referring to the decisive 2016 NBA Finals matchup between the Cavs and the Golden State Warriors, during which he hit the game-winning 3-pointer. “There is no blocking out the noise or anything like that. It’s going to be there, whether I like it or not.”
Irving does have a shoulder to lean on as he approaches Tuesday’s heralded matchup with the Cavaliers. His teammate, Al Horford, made a return to Atlanta last season after spurning the Hawks during 2016 free agency for a chance to join the Celtics.
Horford remembers his first game back in Atlanta, during which he tallied 10 points, six rebounds and six assists, being an emotional rollercoaster leading up to tip-off.
“Going back there, at a place where you spent so many years, a lot of people that you know and relationships that you built over the years,” he recalled Sunday afternoon. “It’s a little overwhelming because everybody wants to get their hands on you to say hello, just talk to you for a second.”
Horford, however, doesn’t expect any of that to affect his new point guard. He sees exactly what everyone else sees: that Irving doesn’t buy into all of the hoopla.
“Kyrie, he’s really approaching this, I feel like, like any other game,” said Horford. “He’s really locked in.”
That’s exactly what Celtics fans want to hear, and what Cavaliers fans should fear.
The Q will rain boos down upon Irving when he returns to Cleveland, that much is certain.
What else is certain is that Cavs fans can boo all they want Tuesday night. Irving still won’t care.
To him, it’s just hoops, and an opportunity to grab a win.