NEW YORK - Kyrie Irving heard the “We want Kyrie! We want Kyrie!” chants that echoed through Madison Square Garden.
He seemed more annoyed than flattered.
“It’s nothing but a distraction at this point,” he said.
Irving and the Boston Celtics handled it as easily as they handled the overmatched Knicks, winning 113-99 on Friday night in the first game since New York traded Kristaps Porzingis.
Irving had 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists before a crowd eager to start the free agent wooing five months early.
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.
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.
Discouraged earlier this season by the play of some of his younger teammates, his frustration now is with the talk about matters beyond basketball, with the trade deadline less than a week away and his name being tied to Anthony Davis’ future as he seeks a trade from New Orleans.
So the former New Jersey high school star figured it would be a scene when he was back in the area.
“Like I said, I’m appreciative of the fan support I get in any arena, but of course coming back home,” he said. “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.”
Marcus Morris added 18 points for the Celtics, who won for the eighth time in nine games and remain supportive of Irving.
Damyean Dotson scored 22 points and Kevin Knox had 21 for the Knicks, who dropped their 12th straight.
Nuggets 136, Rockets 122
In Denver, Nikola Jokic had 31 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, Malik Beasley had a career-high 35 points and Nuggets defeated Houston.
Hornets 100, Grizzlies 92
In Charlotte, Kemba Walker scored 23 points, Marvin Williams hit two key 3-pointers and Bismack Biyombo swatted away a pair of late shots, leading the Hornets past depleted Memphis.
Thunder 118, Heat 102
In Miami, Paul George scored 43 points and had a career-high 10 3s, Dennis Schroder scored 24 of his 28 points in the second quarter and Oklahoma City extended the NBA’s longest current winning streak to seven games by beating the Heat.
Jazz 128, Hawks 112
In Salt Lake City, Rudy Gobert had 25 points and 13 rebounds to lead Utah over Atlanta.