John Tomase

Kyrie's humble act isn't fooling us; bring on C's villain in Finals

Kyrie Irving facing the team he spurned in the NBA Finals would make for high drama.

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I don't know what Kyrie Irving is playing at, but I don't like it. Not one bit.

If you've watched the Mavericks this season, you've noticed a different Irving. He defers to superstar teammate Luka Doncic, he willingly facilitates, and when the time comes to take over, his bag remains as bottomless as Hermione Granger's. He's a force.

What he hasn't been is a sage-burning, gibberish-spouting, vaccine-denying distraction. He bristled at his Best Supporting Actor nominations alongside LeBron James, he shot his way out of Boston after serving as a sulky anti-mentor to young stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and he made such a hash of the Nets that they shipped him to the Mavericks for pennies. Barely a year ago, he was radioactive.

But watch Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, when Irving lit up brash young Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards for 30 points in Dallas's upset win, and there wasn't a trace of drama to be found. In fact, Irving sounded downright gracious postgame with the TNT crew, coming off as humble, selfless, and dare I say ... normal?

"I feel good out there as a point guard, especially with Luka, when we can go in tandem, he goes, I go," Irving said. "It's not your-turn, my-turn. I'm just looking for the next opportunity to make a play for my teammates."

Irving conducted the interview with an aww-shucks smile and a doe-eyed, deferential, glancing-at-his-shoes posture. This will not do and we will not stand for it.

If the Celtics and Mavericks collide in the NBA Finals, Irving will take center stage against the team he not only spurned, but nearly destroyed, and we see right through this Mr. Congeniality routine. The real Kyrie is still in there, and we will make him show himself.

Irving is a first-team all-time Boston sports villain, alongside Alex Rodriguez, Roger Goodell, and Ulf Samuelsson, and it would be savvy of him to kill us with so much kindness that we stumble like an overcommitted defender. But stay square and don't reach, youngblood, because we know better.

There's a reason Hollywood decided the charismatic, chameleonic Irving could be a movie star, and it's because Uncle Drew can act a little. We witnessed it first-hand after he arrived in 2017. He fooled us for a while with his whole "if you'll have me" routine and the slick commercial about hanging his number in the Garden rafters. I won't lie. I bought all of it.

But the fairy tale became a slasher flick in short order. Irving took veiled shots at Boston's young stars and their inability to understand what it took to win a title, conveniently abdicating his responsibility to lead them. While injured, he skipped Game 7 of the conference finals against LeBron's Cavs to undergo a rhinoplasty or something, which didn't feel particularly team-first.

By the time he was caught canoodling and/or conspiring with Kevin Durant at the 2019 All-Star Game, we knew how this story would end. Irving's last act in a Celtics uniform was quitting in the conference semifinals vs. the Bucks – it's hard to play defense when you've got one foot out the door.

So off he went to create his ill-fated super-team in Brooklyn. The Celtics nearly imploded as a result. They replaced Irving with Kemba Walker, a truly selfless superstar who was nonetheless breaking down. By 2021, the C's were a .500 team in need of major change. Danny Ainge stepped down, Brad Stevens moved up, and the whole operation hung by a precarious thread. Splitting up the Jays felt as likely as winning a title with them, and Irving started the entire avalanche.

That's the unforgivable part. He actively left the organization in far worse shape than he found it.

So Celtics fans understandably despise him, and gleefully rode him every chance they got in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. The Celtics won Game 1 at the buzzer despite an outstanding effort from Irving, and then he slowly disappeared thereafter, consumed with flipping off the fans instead of silencing them. Not since A-Rod had a rival athlete made it more clear that Boston was in his head.

Today's Irving, however, is basically unrecognizable, and that should make us all just a little bit queasy. A focused Irving is unstoppable, and Dallas made some smart changes at the trade deadline to improve its defense and cohesion (see you later, Grant Williams). The retooled Mavs represent a legitimate threat to Boston's title hopes.

And wouldn't that be just like Irving? Spurning the Celtics was bad enough, but that's old news. Beating them would be the worst outcome imaginable, so don't let the humble act fool you. Kyrie remains the biggest villain in Boston, villains inevitably reveal their true natures, and villains must be vanquished.

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