kyrie irving
David Butler II | USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving doesn’t see himself as the villain, but he plays the part so well. The hate players receive from hostile crowds can cause some guys to wilt like a dying flower. For Irving, that hostility — actually, that “energy” is clearly part of what’s fueling him in Boston.

“Embrace it. It’s the dark side. Embrace it.”

That’s the message from Irving after his Brooklyn Nets lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 1. That “dark side” that Irving is referencing? It’s all about his back-and-forth with the Boston fans.

Flipping the bird, hurling expletives, and crotch-grabbing — this is playoff basketball. It’s not polite or friendly. Whether or not Irving wants to admit there is hostility when he steps into TD Garden, it’s undeniable.

Game 1 was heated. The TD Garden crowd boos and harrassed Irving at every opportunity. That comes with the territory given Irving’s unceremonious exit from Beantown. Boston fans hold a grudge, even three years later. Clearly, Irving is more than happy to send that energy right back at the folks with hoarse voices wearing green.

The pearl-clutching is already here. NBA on TNT analysts and Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley are telling Kyrie to “man up” instead of reacting to the crowd.

Am I missing something here? Shaq and Chuck are telling Irving to man up as if he was the reason why Brooklyn lost. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Chuck is picking Boston to win the series so he’s already biased towards the Celtics.

Their point is that the right way to respond to boos is by playing well. Were they watching the same game as everyone else? Irving was the best player on the floor by a wide margin.

The enigmatic point guard upped his level as the heat from the crowd and the intensity of the game increased. Eighteen of his 39 points came in the fourth quarter when the crowd was in a total frenzy.

The crowd did not take Irving out of his game. In fact, the bitterness of the Boston fans did more to help the Nets than hurt them.

And this is more than just a flash-in-the-pan performance for Irving. Whenever the heat is turned up, he digs down to play his best basketball. Whether it’s a first-round series against Boston or Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Kyrie is a certified killer in the playoffs.

Irving’s response to the crowd will cost him a sizable chunk of money. It won’t win over any new fans to Brooklyn’s cause either. But none of that matters if Irving continues to play well and the Nets win this series.

Kyrie can tap dance on Lucky after the series if the Nets win this in five or seven games. Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis will weep for the cartoon mascot.

As long as Kevin Durant remembers he’s Kevin Durant and the Boston faithful continues to antagonize Kyrie Irving, the Nets are going to be just fine in this series.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.