Horford, Mazzulla discuss facing ex-Celtic Irving in NBA Finals




Celtics

“TD Garden’s gonna be ready to go. It’s those environments that you want to play in. … I don’t expect anything less from our fans.”

Al Horford was teammates with Kyrie Irving on the Celtics from 2017-19. Tim Heitman/Getty Images

For better or for worse, a major 2024 NBA Finals storyline is Kyrie Irving’s history with the Celtics and what it would mean for one party to defeat the other.

The now-Dallas Maverick will once again face his former team in the postseason, this time on the sport’s biggest stage.

Irving and the Mavericks will travel to Boston’s TD Garden for Games 3 and 4, plus the if-necessary fifth and seventh games. All contests promise to feature an unapologetically rowdy Celtics crowd that will incessantly boo Irving.

Irving’s former Boston teammate, Al Horford, said he’s looking forward to playing in those home games with Irving on the floor.

“Regardless of who’s coming in and who’s not, it’s gonna be lively. It’s gonna be exciting, it’s gonna be loud,” he told reporters on Friday. “TD Garden’s gonna be ready to go. It’s those environments that you want to play in. You are in the finals, this is the big stage. I don’t expect anything less from our fans. Our fans are gonna be who they are and that’s what it is.”

Horford was also asked about what it was like playing with Irving during their Celtics tenure, which featured two playoff runs that ended short of reaching the NBA Finals. 

“Playing with Kyrie was very special,” he said. “He’s the type of player that just puts up a lot for everybody else. I benefitted a lot from that in his time that he was here. … When he left, it wasn’t ideal for everyone here.”

Both Horford and Irving left Boston in free agency after the 2018-19 season — Horford signed with the Philadelphia 76ers and Irving famously joined the Brooklyn Nets to play with Kevin Durant.

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla was also asked about Irving on Friday, specifically about his opinion regarding the player being viewed as a “villain” in the eyes of Boston fans.

“We’re all villains in someone’s eyes,” he said. “He’s a great player. He’s done a lot of good things. I think how he’s carried himself, how he’s played this postseason has been one of the fun things to watch as one of the themes in the NBA. He’s a great player, done a lot of great things over the course of his career, and he’s playing really well. You have to respect that. You can’t take that for granted and you have to be ready to guard him at a high level. It’s the most important thing.”

Irving and Mazzulla’s respective Celtics careers didn’t quite line up. Irving left Boston in early July 2019 while Mazzulla was hired as an assistant coach in June. By the time Mazzulla joined the staff, it felt as if Irving’s Celtics tenure was coming to a close.

Based on Horford and Mazzulla’s answers to questions about Irving, it seems as if the Celtics are trying to keep themselves out of the Irving-Boston theme that will inevitably dominate this year’s Finals. Horford sounds like he wants to leave that discourse to the fans while Mazzulla is simply focused on keeping Irving at bay in the field.





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