PHOENIX — Almost 24 hours after Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving fired the ball into the stands following a 115-107 loss to Denver on Monday night, the source of Irving’s frustration — a last-second 3-point attempt by Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, who was trying to reach 50 points — still had him steaming.
“From a competition and competitive standpoint, I think it absolutely deserved to go in the stands still,” said Irving, who on Tuesday was fined $25,000 by the NBA for throwing the ball almost to the top of the lower bowl inside Denver’s Pepsi Center a night earlier. “You just don’t play basketball like that.
“It’s as simple as that. You just don’t. There’s a tradition and a respect within the league, as well as in any basketball game. Obviously you’ve won the game, you have it sealed, you’ve had a great game, game of your life, and you do something like that, it’s just … it’s petty. It’s immature.
“We’ll see him again though.”
When the Celtics and Nuggets meet again — March 18 at Boston’s TD Garden — Irving’s response to the final act of Murray’s brilliant night, in which the third-year guard scored 48 points to lead 9-1 Denver, will be fresh on everyone’s minds.
It certainly seems as if it will be fresh on Irving’s given how he reacted to what happened after having a night to sleep on it. In the moment, it was immediately obvious Irving was bothered by Murray’s decision to fire up a 31-footer as the buzzer sounded in the hopes of eclipsing the 50-point barrier.
After the buzzer sounded, Irving wound up with the ball in his hands. When Nuggets assistant Jordi Fernandez — who was a player development assistant with the Cavaliers during Irving’s first two NBA seasons in Cleveland — came over and attempted to shake Irving’s hand, Irving ripped his hand away and spun around.
That’s when he fired the ball into the stands, and marched off the court. Then, speaking to the media a short time later, he unloaded on Murray, culminating with him saying, “But the ball deserves to go in the crowd after a bulls— move like that. So I threw it in the crowd.”
He then doubled down on his position after the Celtics practiced Tuesday.
“I mean, when everyone knows the intent of it, I think it just makes it clear of what’s going on,” Irving said. “Obviously, I’m watching, and I’m watching the play at the end of the game, and I’m just watching to see if he’s really gonna shoot the ball.
“That’s just so thirsty of a player to just go after something like that. Clearly, 50 points is a big deal, but get it within regulation. Take it as a man, get your free throws and get to 50 points. But you don’t wait ’til the end of the game, when everybody’s not playing, to just launch up a shot and then nonchalantly go like this [shrugs shoulders] as if it doesn’t even matter.
“It’s a tradition in the league, but it’s just immature.”
As for his fine, Irving took responsibility for his actions, twice saying the punishment was “well deserved” and that he didn’t want anyone to get hurt by having a ball hit them in the stands.
But being willing to accept responsibility for his actions clearly didn’t mean forgiving Murray for his — despite the fact Murray apologized for, as he called it, “letting his emotions get the best of him” both in an on-court interview immediately after the game and then at his locker later on.
“I think my emotions took over, as it normally does,” said Murray, who shot 19-for-30 overall, 5-for-11 from 3-point range, and went 5-for-5 from the foul line. “No disrespect to the Boston organization and fans with that shot — I just had in my mind that I was going to go 50, and I think everybody kind of understood that was what I was trying to do.
“I really wasn’t meaning no disrespect. … I know half the team over there, so no hard feelings.”
Murray may not have hard feelings, but Irving certainly does. If it wasn’t apparent already, it became so when Irving was asked if there should be any leeway given to a player like Murray, who is 21 and in his third NBA season, for getting caught up in a moment such as this one.
“He knew. He knew,” Irving said when asked if Murray was aware of what he was doing. “He knew. He knew. It’s not like I hold any resentment towards it, but hopefully going forward after this, he doesn’t do anything like that.
“It’s just, you’ve seen guys throughout the league, I believe there was an incident in Indiana when Lance Stephenson took a layup at the end where they were playing against Toronto … it’s just experiences that everyone has. You just don’t do that in the NBA.
“In any game, it’s just a respect for your opponent, and I felt disrespected after the game. So, your career-high ball goes in the stands.”