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The NBA Playoffs are in full swing and packed full of action

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The NBA is not even a week into its postseason, and there's been plenty of drama, great basketball and some booing. NPR's Tom Goldman is here to talk about all that. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, Boston Celtics against the Brooklyn Nets - Game 2 was last night. What happened?

GOLDMAN: The Celtics won and took a two-games-to-none lead in a series that feels like it's gone on for a lot longer because each of the games has been really intense - tough and physical, a lot of fouls called. Boston, again, played great defense last night, especially against the Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who shot a combined 8 for 30. That's not good. Durant, in particular, considered the best scorer in the NBA, has struggled offensively in both games. The rotten thing about this series - both teams are good enough to go very deep in the tournament, so it's too bad they have to play in the first round. Feels like every game in this best-of-seven series is going to be filled with drama.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the drama of the booing in Game 1. What was the situation with Irving?

GOLDMAN: Well, the history behind it - he played for Boston, said he wanted to stay and then left for Brooklyn. And Boston fans didn't like that. They felt betrayed. It's not helped by Irving, last year in the playoffs, stomping on the Boston logo at half court. That's not a way to endear yourself. So Kyrie has long been an interesting and controversial character. Last night, early in the game. he was seen apparently breaking his Ramadan fast. That's the interesting part. The controversy this season has been his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID, meaning he had to sit out a bunch of home games because of New York City laws. And critics said he was being selfish, putting himself above his team. So he's heard it from the Boston fans for two games, some saying very abusive things, according to Irving. And in Game 1, he decided to fight fire with fire, giving the crowd the middle finger several times and getting fined $50,000 for it.

INSKEEP: Wow, $50,000 for the middle finger. I hope that was satisfying. But he's frustrated with the crowd. Are there are a lot of instances of that?

GOLDMAN: There have been in recent years. Last season's playoffs, for instance, there were incidents with players getting spit on, having popcorn dumped on them. A fan threw a water bottle at Irving. And, Steve, an interesting take this week from an NBA insider, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, known as Woj to hoop fans - he talked about the growth in legal sports gambling. You see commercials for sportsbooks and casinos constantly on game telecasts now. It's making money for leagues and for players, and fans are betting on their phones during games. Woj says it's also potentially fueling more of the belligerence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI: People gambling on almost everything, and they're drinking - and when people are losing money in real time and they're pointing to a player on the court that said, hey, I bet you to score more points in the second quarter than somebody else and I lost.

GOLDMAN: Gambling and drinking, Steve. I, for one, am shocked. But, yeah, some athletes say they are feeling the abuse ramping up. It's too bad.

INSKEEP: Yeah, it is. It's not good. So if we turn our eyes back to the court, what other first-round series caught your attention?

GOLDMAN: The Golden State Warriors are looking like the team that dominated the NBA just a few years ago. And suddenly, the No. 1 seed in the West, Phoenix, against No. 8 New Orleans is must-watch. Phoenix lost in the NBA finals last year, had the best regular season this year and seemed ready to make another finals run. But then in Game 2, the Suns best player, guard Devin Booker, strained a hamstring. New Orleans played great and won. The series is tied 1-1. Suddenly, it's interesting.

INSKEEP: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SARAH, THE ILLSTRUMENTALIST'S "DRACO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.