NEW YORK -- As he prepared to wear a protective mask for the third time in his NBA career, Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving is very much aware of the "Masked Kyrie" phenomenon that's flourished on social media.
Irving suffered a facial fracture in Boston's win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night and missed Sunday's victory over the Toronto Raptors. Irving wore a mask Tuesday night when he returned to game action against the Brooklyn Nets.
"I hate wearing it, but somehow it's caused a craze on Instagram as well as social media," a smiling Irving said Tuesday at Boston's shootaround at Asphalt Green in Battery Park. "It's 'masked man.' But I understand that it's just for my safety, so throw on the mask for a few weeks and go about my business."
Irving suffered the fracture below his right eye when he was inadvertently elbowed by teammate Aron Baynes in the first quarter Friday. Even without Irving, the Celtics rallied from 18 down to top the Hornets and then gritted out a win against the Raptors on Sunday to extend their winning streak to a league-best 12 games.
Irving said that before he could get fitted for his mask, his young daughter, Azurie, accidentally bumped him in the exact spot of his fracture immediately after the injury.
"My daughter hit me in my face the other day and, that right there, I almost teared up," Irving said. "I did my absolute best not to cry in front of her. I was like, 'Oh my goodness, baby.' She hit me right on that spot. Like, literally right after. I came home and I was trying to put her to bed and she hit me right on that spot by mistake."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that if Irving deems himself ready, he has no apprehension putting him back on the court.
"It's just going to be pain tolerance, comfort with the mask, all that stuff," said Stevens. "That would be between him and our medical staff. He went through everything this morning."
Irving is no stranger to playing in a mask, having endured two extended stretches with protective facial gear during his time in Cleveland.
"[This injury it's] just my sinuses, man," Irving said. "Probably not being able to yell as much as I would like to. It's just shattered in my face, right down [under his eye]. It's an uncomfortable feeling but it's not anything I haven't felt before.
"I fell on my face one time, I got elbowed, I broke my nose, suffered a deviated septum. You just want to keep this thing as pretty as possible but, hey, it's getting tougher and tougher the more aggressive I play. Hopefully I won't get elbowed by one of my teammates today."
Irving joked that Baynes did not need to apologize for accidentally breaking his face.
"He don't need to get me a fruit basket, man. He was trying to go for the block on Kemba Walker. And I should have just sent him to the big and gotten out of the play," Irving said. "It's more or less onus on my end. Just getting out of the way. I shouldn't be down there anyway."
Added Irving: "At first I was in a daze a little bit. It was such a surprising hit. It happened so unexpectedly. I haven't been hit like that in a while to where my nose starts bleeding and I kind of -- getting hit by Aron Baynes, it's nothing pretty. But it's part of the game. When stuff happens like that, that's the last hope -- you don't want to get a concussion and be down a little longer than expected. But obviously we took the precautions. I did all my tests to make sure I wasn't having headaches or anything like that, or any linger effects. Good thing it was isolated right here on my face. My maxilla right there, they told me about that."