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Dallas guard Irving has rough NBA Finals opener in response to boos (and worse) from Boston crowd

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving dribbled the ball off his foot, and the Boston fans erupted in cheers. He lost his footing on another turnover, and the crowd went wild.

Even just bringing the ball up the court drew boos from the locals, who haven’t forgiven Irving for opting out of his Celtics contract after the 2019 playoffs. If the Mavericks point guard was hoping to quiet the Boston fans with a big game in the opener of the NBA Finals, it didn’t quite go that way.

Irving scored 12 points on 6-for-19 shooting, missing all five 3-point attempts and turning the ball over three times as Boston beat Dallas 107-89 on Thursday night. Irving had two assists, and Dallas had just nine in all; only once has a team had fewer in the NBA Finals in the last 55 years.

It was Irving’s 11th straight loss to the Celtics.

“It’s not the first time I’ve lost in Boston. I don’t want to continue to make it a habit,” Irving said. “They have had my number a little bit.”

An eight-time All-Star who teamed with LeBron James to help Cleveland win the 2016 NBA title, Irving has since come to be known as much for outlandish opinions as anything he did on the court.

He blew up his relationship with James when he left Cleveland, and then also left Boston on bad terms. Then the player who questioned whether the earth was round sidelined himself for home games in Brooklyn rather than get a COVID-19 vaccine.

But Irving has been a model teammate in Dallas, and has even admitted to some of his previous shortcomings.

Not that the Boston fans will ever let him forget it.

“Being in this environment, I’m used to it at this point,” Irving said. “Over the past few years in the playoffs here, regular season, it’s been the same thing. I thought I was going to be a little louder in here. But I’m expecting the same things. Going to Game 2, crowd trying to get me out of my element.”

Irving spent two seasons with the Celtics, missing the 2018 playoffs with an injury as Boston made it to the Eastern Conference finals. A healthy Irving the next year was supposed to set the stage for many years of long postseason runs.

But the Celtics lost in the second round the following year, and then Irving – who’d professed his love for the city – opted out of his contracts. His returns since then have been ugly: a fan threw a water bottle at him after a 2021 playoff game; a year later, he cursed at and gave the middle finger to the crowd, for which he was fined.

“It’s not the booing. It’s not the missed shots. It’s more or less just our attitude and how we approach it,” Irving said. “I haven’t had the best games offensively this playoff run. … Now it’s our turn to go through it together. And that’s what makes it exciting.”

Compared to previous visits, Thursday’s game was tame.

Irving was booed at introductions, and otherwise welcomed with a variety of vulgar chants. But most of the focus was on the game.

And that was the problem.

“I thought he had great looks that just didn’t go down,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “He had some great looks at 3. He had some great looks in the paint. That’s just part of basketball. Sometimes they go in. Sometimes they don’t. Tonight, they just didn’t go down for Kai or most of the team, and hopefully we get those same shots in Game 2 and we can be better.”

Boston opened a 29-point lead in the first half, only to see Dallas score the last seven points of the second quarter and then go on a 20-6 run early in the third. With a chance to make it a two-possession game, Dereck Lively II traveled, and then Irving did the same.

A missed 3-pointer and a pair of missed shots underneath by Irving helped Boston extend the lead back to 22 points, 86-64.

And the Mavericks were never in the game after that.

“We did cut it to eight and got the rebound and unfortunately came up with a travel,” Kidd said. “A lot of good things in that third and fourth that we can build on. That’s what we talked about after the game and that’s what we have to do.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

By JIMMY GOLEN
AP Sports Writer

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