Although he started the game, Irving only played 17 minutes, as the Cavs limited his playing time during his on-court return:
|Kyrie Irving—Dec. 20 vs. 76ers|
After Iman Shumpert came back on Dec. 11 against the Orlando Magic, Irving was the last piece remaining before the reigning Eastern Conference champions would finally be at full strength. The three-time All-Star all but confirmed he'd play against the Sixers after tweeting "I'm back" Saturday afternoon.
NBA.com's John Schuhmann pictured Cleveland walking out to "The Imperial March" with Irving now in tow:
"I'm pretty f'ing excited," he said regarding his eventual debut, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. "There were a few things I had to clear, but there was no rush on it. I've been ready to play, but biomechanically we just wanted to make sure everything was good so I wouldn't put myself at risk."
"I hope that it gives us a little shot in the arm because we've been waiting for him," said Cavaliers head coach David Blatt, per Tom Withers of the Associated Press.
The 23-year-old point guard wasn't gun-shy about making one of his patented drives to the basket on his surgically repaired left knee, per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
Irving's first points of the year came on a fast-break layup with a little less than nine minutes left in the second quarter:
LeBron James offered some encouragement to his teammate following the bucket, per Joe Gabriele of Cavs.com:
Irving started looking more like himself as the game went on, especially on this layup in the third quarter, per the Cavs' Twitter account:
It looked like his night was done when Cleveland took an 88-60 lead into the fourth quarter. However, Blatt sent Irving out to get a little more action. Lloyd understood the aim but remained somewhat perplexed:
That decision allowed Irving to show he doesn't have any rust as a passer after he found Jared Cunningham for an emphatic alley-oop, per the Cavs:
The Cavs couldn't have picked a better situation for Irving to make his debut. Earlier in the week, ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin reported he was on track to return against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 17, but the 76ers presented a much more favorable climate.
Not only does Philadelphia own the worst record in the league, but it also lacks any kind of point guard who could challenge Irving at either the offensive or defensive end of the floor.
Irving will have another game—against the New York Knicks on Dec. 23—to become acclimated to the starting five before Cleveland's massive clash with the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. He'll have his hands full against Stephen Curry in a repeat of last year's NBA Finals.
How Blatt handles his rotations with a healthy Irving and what it means for Kevin Love's role in the offense will be among the biggest questions surrounding the Cavs now.
Cleveland managed to post the best record in the East without Irving, but any hopes of winning an NBA title hinge on his performance. Based on Sunday, it won't be long before he's back to his dynamic self.