Kyrie Irving discussed facing the Celtics in the NBA Finals


“It’s going to be a chess match, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Kyrie Irving celebrates after the Mavericks defeated the Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals. Irving now faces his former team, the Boston Celtics, in the NBA Finals. David Berding/Getty Images

After the Mavericks officially clinched a spot against the Celtics in the NBA Finals, at least part of the conversation inevitably moved to the Kyrie Irving-Boston subplot.

Irving, 32, will be returning to face the team that he played for from 2017-2019. It’s not the first time he has faced the Celtics since departing as a free agent, and not even the first time he’s played in a postseason series in Boston. Yet due to the negative perception surrounding his time with the team (and subsequent exit), Irving’s reaction to facing the Celtics was always going to be an intriguing postgame moment.

The subject was briefly broached by Ernie Johnson during an on-court interview immediately after the Maverick’s Game 5 win in the Western Conference Finals. Asked if he was “looking forward” to going back to Boston, Irving was direct.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Boston’s in the way, in between our goal. That’s it.”

Later, he joined “SportsCenter” for an interview with Scott Van Pelt. While most of the conversation focused on the Mavericks’ recent history and Irving’s playoff run to reach the finals, Van Pelt couldn’t resist asking the ex-Celtic about facing his former team.

“I’m at a place in my life where I don’t even consider those past moments,” Irving said of his time in Boston. “I was able to unpack them in a healthy way, and move forward as a person.”

“I had a rough time there when I was in Boston, again, just dealing with a death in my family and dealing with a lot of off-court stuff that I wasn’t ready to handle,” Irving explained, referencing the death of his grandfather in 2018. “So now that I’m in a great place to be able to vocalize how I’m feeling, I’m ready to go back into Boston, have fun with my teammates. I know we’re going to be locked in.”

His commentary about the current Celtics team was anything but bulletin board material from a Boston perspective.

“We’re going against a great Boston team that has earned their way to the NBA Finals,” Irving noted. “So I just see them as a formidable opponent, an honest opponent, and we’re going to see the best team that wins.”

Irving is seen as a veteran presence on Dallas’ roster. He’s one of only two Mavericks (along with Markieff Morris) who has experience playing in the NBA Finals.

Asked what his message is to younger teammates, especially going to play in Boston, Irving offered a little more praise of the Celtics.

“Stay focused, stay poised, and remember why we play the game of basketball, and who we do it for. Don’t stress [about] the environment,” Irving said of the finals atmosphere. “It’s another basketball court that we get a chance to paint on a canvas, and enjoy it. It’s the finals, but it’s still basketball at the end of the day.

“It’s going to be some high level players going at each other,” Irving added. “Grateful to be able to go against a great coach, great players in Boston. It’s going to be a chess match, and I’m looking forward to it. [I’ll] just tell my guys to enjoy the moment.”

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