Kyrie Irving is embracing the dark side of his rivalry with Celtics fans: ‘It’s the same energy I’m giving back to them’

Kyrie Irving’s frustration with some Celtics fans seemed to boil over after Sunday’s loss. (Steven Senne/AP)

BOSTON — Kyrie Irving made it clear: He’s going to “embrace the dark side.” He’s going to give Celtics fans the same energy they give him.

On yet another night at the TD Garden laden with boos and expletives directed at Irving, the former Celtic who left the green and white for Brooklyn’s black and gray three offseasons ago, the Nets’ All-Star guard gave Boston fans the middle finger on multiple occasions — including a behind-the-head double-finger — and cursed out a fan during halftime of the Nets’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

“It’s nothing new when I come into this building what it’s gonna be like, but it’s the same energy they had for me, and imma have the same energy for them,” Irving said after hanging 39 points in the losing effort. “And it’s not every fan. I don’t want to attack every Boston fan, but when people start yelling ‘p—-,’ and ‘b—-,’ and ‘f— you,’ and all this other stuff, there’s only but so much you can take as a competitor, and we’re the ones expected to be docile and be humble and take a humble approach.”

“Nah, f— that. It’s the playoffs. This is what it is. I know what to expect in here, and it’s the same energy I’m giving back to them. It is what it is.”

During last year’s playoff run, Irving stepped on the face of the Celtics’ half court logo — Lucky the Leprechaun — after the Nets won Game 4. A fan responded by throwing a water bottle at Irving on his way to the locker room. The fan was arrested and later released on $500 bail.

“All is fair in competitions,” Irving said of a possible run-in with Celtics fans on Friday ahead of Game 1. “When emotions are running high, anything can happen and I think I just want to go in there with a poise and a composure and not pay attention to any of the extra noise. I can speak on so many different things but I choose not to.”

Irving refused to categorize Celtics’ fans actions as hostility on Sunday, but it appeared their negative energy fueled his game. Despite the entire TD Garden crowd booing him during pregame introductions and every time he touched the ball in Game 1, Irving shot 12-of-20 from the field and scored 18 points in the fourth quarter alone.

“I don’t think he worries about (the hostility),” Kevin Durant said of Irving. “I think he just plays his game and does what’s required out there tonight.”

Irving has gotten the same treatment from Celtics fans every game he’s played in Boston since leaving town for the Nets in the summer of 2019 and said he doesn’t worry much about the negative energy because of his history growing up and playing basketball in New Jersey and New York City.

“I’m not really focused on it. It’s fun, you know what I’m saying? But where I’m from (West Orange, N.J.), I’ve dealt with so much (that) coming in here, you relish it as a competitor,” Irving said. “But this isn’t my first time in TD Garden, so what you guys saw and what you guys think is entertainment, or the fans think is entertainment, all is fair in competition. So if somebody’s gonna call me out of my name, imma look at them straight in the eye and see if they’re really about it. Most of the time they’re not.”

Irving is going to continue to get this treatment for the remainder of the Nets’ first-round playoff series, where they will need to win at least one game in Boston if they are going to make it to the second round. How will Irving deal with the boos when they intensify in Games 2, 5 and 7 in this series?

“Embrace it,” Irving said. “It’s the dark side. Embrace it.”