Kyrie Irving, who could become a free agent at the end of the season, finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Boston Celtics defeated the struggling New York Knicks 113-99 Friday.
The contest came just one day after the Knicks traded injured Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks which will give New York the funds to go after top free agents this summer.
Knicks fans are hoping Irving will be willing to sign with them – and he got a loud ovation from the crowd of 19,700 at Madison Square Garden when the starting line-ups were announced.
A “We want Kyrie! We want Kyrie!” chant echoed through the arena in the third quarter.
“It’s nothing but a distraction at this point,” said Irving, who was born in Melbourne, Australia but grew up in New Jersey.
“Like I said, I’m appreciative of the fan support I get in any arena,” he said on Friday. “Obviously what’s going on in terms of that noise and commentary is just a bunch of nonsense right now.
“Can’t do anything about it so I’m just accepting, I’m appreciative, but at the same time I’ve got a game to focus on.”
The New York fans’ admiration might be misdirected as Irving already made a point at a Celtics’ fan event last fall of telling the crowd he would re-sign with Boston.
Although he seemed to back off on that somewhat Friday when asked if his mind has changed about remaining a Celtic.
“Ask me July 1,” he said.
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 hapless Knicks, who lost their 12th straight. New York has now started February with a loss after losing 24 of 27 games in December and January.
In Thursday’s multi-player deal, the Knicks gave up Porzingis, Tim Hardaway, Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas and received Dennis Smith, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews, plus two future first-round picks.
The Knicks’ new players weren’t available, so they started Dotson and Kadeem Allen as guards.
Dallas announced Friday that Porzingis likely will not play this season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL injury.
Elsewhere, Paul George scored 43 points and had a career-high 10 three-pointers as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Miami Heat 118-102, extending the NBA’s longest current winning streak to seven games.
“Paul George, tonight, was tremendous,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “One of the more impressive shooting displays I’ve seen this season.”
Russell Westbrook got his fifth straight triple-double and 18th of the season, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists as the Thunder defeated the Heat for the sixth consecutive time.
“There were some real good positive things to take from the game all the way around,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
Kelly Olynyk scored 21, Josh Richardson scored 18 and Hassan Whiteside finished with 12 points and 16 rebounds in the loss.
In the late game, Nikola Jokic had 31 points and 13 rebounds and Malik Beasley had a career-high 35 points as the Denver Nuggets beat James Harden and the Houston Rockets 136-122.
Harden scored 30 points to stretch his streak to 25 games of scoring 30 or more points. He needed a late three-pointer to keep the streak alive.
Harden’s streak started with a 50-point night against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 13, and nearly ended on a difficult shooting game for the reigning league MVP.
During one stretch Harden missed 10 of 11 shots and four free throws.