Kyrie Irving had 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists before a Madison Square Garden crowd eager to start the free agent wooing five months early, and the Boston Celtics beat New York 113-99 on Friday night in the Knicks’ first game since trading Kristaps Porzingis.
The trade to Dallas gave the Knicks money to chase two top free agents this summer and fans showed Irving that they want him to be one of them, cheering him before and during his return from a two-game absence with a hip injury.
Marcus Morris added 18 points for the Celtics, who won for the eighth time in nine games.
Damyean Dotson scored 22 points and Kevin Knox had 21 for the Knicks, who dropped their 12th straight.
Irving is one of the headline names in the 2019 free agent class, and though he said at a Celtics fan event last fall that he intended to re-sign in Boston, that may be no guarantee. He told reporters at the morning shootaround to “Ask me July 1” if his plans had changed.
Irving got a loud ovation when starting lineups were announced and again when he touched the ball early in the game. A brief “We want Kyrie! We want Kyrie!” chant echoed through the arena in the third quarter.
The Knicks dealt Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas along with the injured Porzingis, getting Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews in return, plus two future first-round picks.
The new players weren’t available, so the Knicks started with a backcourt of Dotson and Kadeem Allen.
The short-handed lineup hung around into the fourth quarter before opening February with a loss after going a combined 3-24 in December and January.
Celtics: Al Horford and Gordon Hayward each had 14 points. … Coach Brad Stevens said he didn’t really have any thoughts about Irving’s comments from Friday morning. “As I certainly read through it, I saw it certainly wasn’t just what was presented this morning,” Stevens said. “Like, I thought obviously he said a lot of things that were positive about here, but our focus has got to be on playing well and ultimately we all want to get better and we all want to play better.”
Knicks: Coach David Fizdale said the new players had been in the arena Friday before the game. … Luke Kornet started at center and scored nine points after missing the last five games with a sprained left ankle.
GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK
Fizdale said he and Porzingis had a nice chat Thursday, wishing each other and joking about never getting onto the court. He said he didn’t question whether there was more he could have done to keep Porzingis happy in New York.
“I can’t think that way. He’s obviously been here and has dealt with whatever he’s had to deal with throughout the course of his career. I can’t personalize that and put that on me,” Fizdale said. “Obviously I really worked hard to build a great relationship with him, going over to Latvia and everything, and really trying to involve him in a lot of the stuff that we’re doing. But at the end of the day these guys have to make decisions based on what’s best for them and he felt like that was best for him.”
Celtics: Host Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Knicks: Host Memphis on Sunday.