Kyrie Irving has officially returned. After missing the team’s first 35 games of the season, we finally have some big three Nets basketball to analyze. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Irving appeared in their ninth regular season game together in the same uniform, the first of this 2021-2022 campaign. Irving dropped 22 points, to go with four dimes, three boards, three steals, and one block.

It was a poor showing in the first half, as Brooklyn’s defense was torched.

Irving missed his first three shots, and it might be fair to say there were some jitters. Apparently head coach Steve Nash had a “welcome back” gift waiting for him. He called the first play of the game for Irving. But the Indiana Pacers had no gifts of their own, as Lance Stephenson tried to steal the show.

Stephenson, who has played for the Pacers in the past, dropped 30 points, including 20 in the 1st quarter, helping to push Indiana’s lead and make the night all about him.

Perhaps the competition gave Kyrie and the Nets just the spark they were looking for. In the second quarter, the 2016 champion picked up the pace draining 3 of 4 from the floor, to take eight points into the half.

It was 73-60 by the break, with neither team appearing terribly interested in getting stops. It started to feel like this one was going to be a big loss, which would have been their fourth in a row.

Coming into the night, the Nets had a certain number of minutes in mind they wanted Irving to play, but not much more. They were cautious not to ask too much of him in his return. They’ve dealt with enough injuries and setbacks.

“We were trying to keep him at 30 [minutes],” said Nash, the game dictated we needed he actually played 32. He looked fine, it didn’t look like it was dangerous but we didn’t want to get him up too far so we pulled him out to start the fourth but we really didn’t want to but to try to keep his number down so he could close the game we kept him out for a few minutes to start the fourth.”

As a team Brooklyn was pretty cold from downtown, going just 5 of 21 from distance. But they made up for it with hitting 26 of 29 free throws. And Kyrie drained a couple clutch pull up jumpers late in the fourth, sparking a Nets run.

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So how did it feel to be back?

“Just a lot of gratitude just to be present tonight with everyone,” said an emotional Irving after the win. “And just go out there and have fun doing what we love to do. It was a not so good first half for us and we came in the locker room and we knew that in order to build this identity, that we wanna have later in the season that we gotta start now,” said Irving.

“I’ve had a lot of debuts but nothin comes close to this one,” Irving admitted. Those 13 words carry a lot of weight considering all that went down before Wednesday’s game.

“It just meant a little bit more. Just because at this stage, you know taking off eight months or being out of the game for eight months, and coming back in, there’s so much uncertainty, how many minutes, what’s the flow of the game gonna be like, how are my teammates going to feel…you just don’t have any idea so I went in just an open mindset just to ground myself, be present, and do whatever it takes to win.”

That strategy seemed to work as Irving led all scorers in the final frame with 10 fourth quarter points. He was clutch, and stole the show… back from Lance Stephenson.


The Nets won’t have him back at the crib, but you can tell the team was thrilled to have this guy at least on the road. After that emotional night is behind them, they can all get back to work soon.