Kyrie Irving Drops 22 Points in Season Debut as Nets Beat Pacers

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 6, 2022

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving's regular-season debut ended in victory as his team defeated the host Indiana Pacers 129-121 on Wednesday.

Irving scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, where the Nets outscored the Pacers 35-20 en route to the eight-point win.

Nets forward Kevin Durant led all scorers with 39 points, and James Harden added 18 to help Brooklyn dig out of a 19-point deficit. Wednesday marked the first time Durant, Harden and Irving were on the court together since last year's playoffs.

Domantas Sabonis led the Pacers with a 32-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double. Lance Stephenson exploded for 30 points off the bench, including 20 in the first quarter alone.

Irving missed the first two months of the season because he not vaccinated against COVID-19, making him ineligible to play home games in New York City.

He would have been eligible to play in most road venues, depending on local guidelines, but the Nets decided in October to bench him until he could become a "full participant."

That has not happened, but the Nets changed course in December when injuries and illnesses rendered the team short-handed. Brooklyn then welcomed Irving back on a part-time basis, but he soon entered the league's health and safety protocols.

He eventually left the protocols and ramped up his activity level before making his season debut versus Indiana.

Irving's debut was a welcome sight for the 24-12 Nets, who broke a three-game losing streak. The 14-25 Pacers have lost six in a row.

Notable Performances

Nets F Kevin Durant: 39 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists

Nets G Kyrie Irving: 22 points, 4 assists, 3 steals

Nets G James Harden: 18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds

Pacers F/C Domantas Sabonis: 32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists

Pacers G Lance Stephenson: 30 points, 5 assists

Pacers PG Keifer Sykes: 18 points, 5 assists

Irving Gets Hot Late, and the Nets Win

The Nets needed to win a shootout on this evening with Sabonis, Stephenson and point guard Keifer Sykes all going off for the Pacers. Brooklyn's defense simply could not stay in front of that trio, meaning the Nets' own big three needed to come through.

Ultimately, having all three of Irving, Harden and Durant showcased just how dangerous that group is. Despite Harden having an off-night (5-of-12, 0-of-4 three-point range), the Nets dropped 129 points (69 in the second half).

Durant was the star of the show, scoring his 39 on 15-of-24 shooting. But it was Irving's late-game heroics that ultimately put the Nets over the top.

Irving got going in the final minute of the third quarter, hitting a pair of buckets (including a buzzer-beater) to cut Indiana's lead to 101-94 entering the fourth.

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

🚨 Buzzer beater! <a href="https://twitter.com/KyrieIrving?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KyrieIrving</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAllStar?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAllStar</a> <a href="https://t.co/nVHJwaNXBz">pic.twitter.com/nVHJwaNXBz</a>

Irving then started cooking in the fourth, hitting a pair of back-to-back midrange pull-up jumpers to give the Nets a 111-106 lead.

The play of the game occurred a few minutes later, when Harden stole the ball from Sabonis. Durant corralled the ball and found DeAndre' Bembry, who found Irving.

The seven-time All-Star took care of the rest as he fought through contact, maintained control of the ball and finished in the lane for a 120-113 edge with 3:17 left:

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

#13 ➡️ #11 <a href="https://t.co/fVna2VF6rk">pic.twitter.com/fVna2VF6rk</a>

Brooklyn never looked back from that point, leading by as many as 12 down the stretch en route to the win.

After the game, Nets head coach Steve Nash commented on how Irving looked:

Kristian Winfield @Krisplashed

Steve Nash on Kyrie Irving: "He looks like himself -- not a big surprise." <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nets?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Nets</a>

That's great news for the Nets and bad news for the NBA. Irving may be a part-time player right now, but his presence should prove to be a huge boost for the Nets as they look to maintain their hold on first in the Eastern Conference.


Lance Stephenson Strums His Air Guitar and Puts on a Show

The always entertaining Stephenson made his return to the NBA this year alongside a host of other former veterans who were picked up by teams this year via hardship exceptions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stephenson is making a great case to stick around for a while after a phenomenal performance.

Stephenson, who was on the Pacers when they went to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014, entered the game midway through the first quarter with a standing ovation:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

standing ovation for <a href="https://twitter.com/StephensonLance?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@StephensonLance</a> 👏 <a href="https://t.co/CRO8LiKuCZ">pic.twitter.com/CRO8LiKuCZ</a>

He didn't score until there was 5:11 left in the first quarter. That bucket was a three-pointer, and Stephenson immediately broke out the air guitar:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

chills<a href="https://twitter.com/StephensonLance?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@StephensonLance</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoldBlooded?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoldBlooded</a> <a href="https://t.co/2FcCRDWoyX">pic.twitter.com/2FcCRDWoyX</a>

He ended up with 20 by the time the frame was over. NBA analyst Frank Isola put his performance in perspective:

Frank Isola @TheFrankIsola

First quarter score: Durant, Harden &amp; Kyrie 20, Lance Stephenson 20.

Stephenson scored the final 20 points of the quarter for the Pacers, and he joined some good company after that spurt:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Lance Stephenson scored 20 straight points for the <a href="https://twitter.com/Pacers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Pacers</a> in the 1st quarter.<br><br>It's the most consecutive team points scored by any player since April 10 last year when Stephen Curry scored 20 straight for the Warriors (h/t <a href="https://twitter.com/EliasSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EliasSports</a>). <a href="https://t.co/n5h3LiTdhj">pic.twitter.com/n5h3LiTdhj</a>

He also became the first player in NBA history to score 20 points off the bench in the first quarter:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

First player in NBA history to score 20 points off the bench in the first quarter 🎸<a href="https://twitter.com/StephensonLance?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@StephensonLance</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoldBlooded?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoldBlooded</a> <a href="https://t.co/FC2U9HQ0hS">pic.twitter.com/FC2U9HQ0hS</a>

A highlight reel of his phenomenal effort can be found here:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

20 PTS<br>8-9 FG<br>4-5 3PT<br><br>And we've still got 3 quarters to go. <a href="https://t.co/LxduhqKzsx">pic.twitter.com/LxduhqKzsx</a>

He ended with 24 for the half and 30 for the game and spoke with Bally Sports: Indiana regarding his performance at halftime:

Bally Sports Indiana @BallySportsIN

Stephenson on his magical 24-point first half in his return: "Just working out two years, waiting for the this moment. I'm so happy to be here, it's home." <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoldBlooded?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoldBlooded</a> <a href="https://t.co/iBqWONotcI">pic.twitter.com/iBqWONotcI</a>

The end result may have not been what the Pacers wanted, but Stephenson entertained the masses with one of the most remarkable performances of the season.


What's Next?

The Pacers will host the Utah Jazz on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Brooklyn will return home to the Barclays Center to take on Milwaukee Bucks on Friday at 7:30 p.m.


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