When Kyrie Irving rolled his ankle last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks, it seemed like a common unintentional injury we often see on the NBA hardwood. Devin Williams, a trainer who works with Irving and other players, says it may not have been what we initially thought. Well, at least not in Kyrie’s mind.
Williams admits that Irving doesn’t think that play just happened to unfold the way it did. Irving used air quotes explaining Giannis’ role in the injury when speaking on the incident. Irving said Antetokounmpo’s foot “just happened to be in the way.”
Upon first hearing this, it sounds like more absurdity on the part of Kyrie. Giannis has a reputation as a great defensive player, he’s a former Defensive Player of the Year award winner, and his motivation on the defensive end has never been doubted. He plays hard every game and gives maximum effort at both ends of the court. Before this incident, no one had ever questioned whether Antetokounmpo was a “dirty” player.
Personally, I don’t buy it. Back in the day, San Antonio Spurs forward Bruce Bowen built up a reputation as a dirty player using the same type of move Irving is accusing Antetokounmpo of hitting him with. Sliding that foot under the shooter as they come back to the floor, making it seem like an accident.
However, Bowen wasn’t a star in the league, an MVP, or a top-five player. He was a journeyman, never the most gifted offensively, who made his living playing intense defense. And if Bowen crossed the line sometimes (which he frequently did), that was the price of him hanging around the NBA for as long as he did. So, in Giannis’ case, he will benefit from the doubt because he’s held in high regard across the league. And it also helps that Irving is the player making these claims against Giannis.
Giannis isn’t the first name anyone thinks of when we hear “dirty player.” Still, Antetokounmpo is one of this era’s best players and has become one of the league’s most recognizable faces over the last couple of years. I just find it hard to believe Antetokounmpo slid under Irving’s foot with the intent to injure. It was something that happened in the heat of battle.
Now that Irving’s sentiment on that situation is out in the open, it adds extra spice to a potential rematch in the first round of this year’s playoffs. Today is the last day of the season, and a Brooklyn win over Indiana assures them a home play-in game against Cleveland. If the nets win that play-in game, they will move on as the No. 7 seed to face Milwaukee in the first round.
Obviously, this is the matchup most fans are rooting for in the first round, and this new angle brought forth by Irving will add some intensity to the series. Irving, Kevin Durant, and the Nets will have payback on their minds after their season was ended by Milwaukee in a tight seven-game series last postseason.
This time Kyrie is healthy and should have fresh legs after playing only 28 games this season due to COVID vaccination mandates. But now that mandates have been lifted in New York City, Irving would be available in every game should they draw Milwaukee in round one.
There are so many storylines in this matchup with the Bucks and Nets. Giannis and KD and locked in a battle to decide who the best player in the world is currently. Then Durant’s big toe was the difference in last year’s series, and now Irving is basically calling out Giannis as a dirty player.
Feels like another exciting seven-game series on the way if Brooklyn can hold up their end of the bargain by capturing the seven seed in the eastern conference. Should things unfold this way, I think we’re in for a tremendous seven-game series out of these teams.
Regarding the injury to Kyrie’s ankle, I don’t think there was any malicious intent on the part of Giannis on that play. I could be wrong, but Irving is also entitled to his own opinion. I mean, Irving’s had far more ridiculous views in the past, as we know. His flat earth theory happened, and he’ll never live that one down.