Kyrie Irving offers shot of hope, no regrets in 1st home game back with Nets

For the first time this season, Kyrie Irving spoke in front of his own team’s fans.

Regardless of where you stand on the side of vaccines and mandates and rights and choices and whatever other hot topics connect all those dots, normalcy has finally returned to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That cannot be denied. That’s something everyone has been craving in this bizarre and divisive drama that engulfed one of the game’s greatest talents for several months. And normalcy should always be celebrated and welcomed, right?

So it’s no surprise that Nets shooting guard Kyrie Irving received just such a reception from the thousands of judges inside the arena on Sunday when his shoes finally touched home for the first time this season.

Yes, it’s true that those pro-Nets fans came in with a not-so-hidden agenda: They want the Nets to win a title. And that wouldn’t happen without Irving, a player who makes big shots but insisted all along that he would miss out on two of them.

So, by refusing to get vaccinated and waiting out the process until the science fell in their favor and all New York City mandates were lifted, did he “win”?

Well, that’s an interesting word for someone who lost millions in revenue and missed 53 games, and watched his team suffer in his absence, and became a polarizing figure for five months, all because he stood behind his convictions. .

Game Summary: Hornets 119, Nets 110

But now, look: These Nets with Kevin Durant and, perhaps, Ben Simmons as part of a Big Three are certainly built for a potential championship run. That possibility lives on. And as long as Irving was able to play home games in the postseason, then he could, in a sense, claim a victory of sorts. And here we are.

The mandate was lifted in part to also bail out the Yankees and Mets and give New York sports fans a sigh of relief, something Durant observed from his unique vantage point.

“Sports is a huge factor in a lot of these major cities and I’m glad we can do things to move everyone forward,” Durant said. “I know the fans in New York City are excited. It’s an exciting time for Brooklyn Nets fans and New York fans to see one of our own on the court at home. He means a lot to our team, we are happy to have him back and we hope to finish the season strong.

“Kyrie knew this day was coming. He just was patient. We all were, and we can move on.”

The Nets are suddenly full of hubris with Kyrie finally in the fold, no strings attached. There has been a renewed sense of fulfillment and fulfillment since the lifting of the mandate. He can play in all the matches. He can strengthen an already decent team. He can make a big difference with the Nets. He can be everything the club hoped for.

Their first home game didn’t go exactly as planned. Playing the second game in a row following a victory in Miami, Kyrie and the Nets had no answers down the stretch of Sunday’s 119-110 loss to the equally desperate Charlotte Hornets. He struggled, shooting just 6 of 22 for 16 points. He missed 15 of his first 17 shots, but of course this was a small sample size: just one game in a peculiar season that, in a sense, is about to be reset.

“It’s not the result we wanted,” he said. “I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted, but that’s basketball. I’m not taking what happened tonight for granted. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to be out there with my brothers.”

What will the Nets look like now that Kyrie is back full time?

He already has a 60-piece this season. He is averaging 27.7 points with 5.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds a night while practicing with the team only sporadically. His performances, up to this point, have remained admirably strong even with his frequent absences from the lineup. His handles are still sharp, his jumper still pure, his attack mode still on and his court vision still sharp. In that sense, nothing has changed: Kyrie remains an elite player and a proven champion.

What this means is that the Nets, reeling right now, aren’t what their record suggests they are. They are not a Play-In Tournament team or a team from the bottom bracket of the playoffs when the regular season ends in two weeks. Just because the facts may say so, the reality is different. How different, we will find out shortly.

Would you like to be the Heat, the Bucks, the Sixers or the fiery Celtics and, after battling all season for a leadership spot in the East, make it to Brooklyn in the first round? Brooklyn with Kyrie eligible to play home games?

Is that a reward… or a punishment?

Durant remains one of the top two or three players in the game, capable of making a big difference on his own. Remember, last summer, while saddled with an injured Kyrie and a limping James Harden, he came within a half-sneaker size of eliminating the eventual champion Bucks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

And if Durant wasn’t enough, Kyrie brings many of the same qualities as a certified player who plays without fear. Just those two alone are enough to strike fear into anyone in the East.

Of course, the big question mark is Simmons and when he will finally make his Nets debut. Will it be him in the final seven games of the regular season, or in the Play-In, or in the playoffs…or not until next season? Due to a lower back injury, he has not participated in a single practice. And assuming he suits up sometime in April, he’ll be asked to go from zero to 60 with a whole new team, which is quite a challenge.

That said, Simmons is a floor-seeing facilitator, and really, how hard is it to pass the ball to Durant and Kyrie? Plus, his defensive length is exactly what the Nets lack.

But anyone who puts too much emphasis on this season would not be studying the big picture. Durant is signed long-term. Same for Simmons. And while Kyrie may escape the final year of his contract this summer, he’s given a strong hint that he’s staying, and yes, Celtics fans are laughing because they heard that song a few years ago.

“To be honest, I signed up for this for the long haul,” Irving said. “I love this year. I’m thankful. It has not been the prototypical year. But when I look at my teammates and I look at what we have as an organization, I’m looking at the long term and what we can do, talk about legacy.”

It is also about the here and now. And the Nets, while in no danger of missing out on the Play-In Tournament entirely, would have to earn their postseason berth with two wins and zero losses in the Play-In if the season ended today.

Kyrie Irving struggles to shoot, records double-double in home debut.

“We’re in (ninth) place and they picked us to be contenders,” Irving said. “If that’s not a true testament to the level of talent we have on this team, I don’t know what is. I appreciate the respect. But honestly, it takes a little longer to build that continuity and we’re using these games and practice time, but we’re going to do our best and live with the results.”

Even with the mandate lifted along with the burden on his shoulders, Irving was unapologetic for the entire episode.

“Like I’ve been saying from the beginning of this whole thing, it’s never been about me,” Irving said. “Any special privileges or exemptions, I think there are a lot of people who face the real consequences of not being vaccinated. I don’t think it’s talked about enough in terms of our essential workers and people on the front lines. It’s a whole community of us that really want to be together.”

The NBA is a better game with Irving on the court, and the Nets are obviously a title contender. And so: after stubbornly sticking to his guns and paying the price, and even initially being prevented from playing away games by his own team because he didn’t want him as a part-timer, Irving is ready to make amends. Something like.

“Being in and out hasn’t helped in terms of our continuity,” Irving admitted.

But he added this: “There is no guilt that I feel.”

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can send him an email here, find your file here and follow him on Twitter.

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