Returning Kyrie Irving comes up big as Nets rally past Pacers – New York Post

Returning Kyrie Irving comes up big as Nets rally past Pacers – New York Post

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyrie Irving finally got the long-awaited season debut he wanted.

And the Nets got the lift they needed.

Irving shook off some early rust and the Nets shook off a huge deficit, storming back for a 129-121 come-from-behind victory before 14,176 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

It snapped a season-worst three-game skid, and was a winning first step in reintegrating Irving. The Nets (24-12) pulled to within 1 ½ games of Chicago in the East, and a full game ahead of third-place Milwaukee.

And they did it with a 25-5 run, sparked by Irving.

“I’ve had a lot of debuts, but nothing comes close to this one,” Irving said. “It meant a little bit more just because, at this stage, 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 going to be like? How are my teammates going to feel? You just don’t have any idea.

Kyrie Irving, who scored 22 points, drives to the basket during the Nets' 129-121 comeback win over the Pacers.
Kyrie Irving, who scored 22 points, drives to the basket during the Nets’ 129-121 comeback win over the Pacers.
NBAE via Getty Images

“So I went in with an open mindset, just to ground myself, be present and do whatever it takes to win. In the first possession when I shot that shot, I was so caught up in just making my first two points, I was so nervous. As a performer, I still get nervous. But that first shot, I wanted that to go in. I settled down [in] the second half. Once I came back out I said, ‘Whatever’s needed out there I’m going to do.’ ”

And he did.

Kyrie Irving drives to the basket during the Nets' win.
Kyrie Irving drives to the basket during the Nets’ win.
NBAE via Getty Images

Kevin Durant was brilliant with 39 points, eight boards and seven assists. But in his first action since Game 4 of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals in June, Irving shook off a scoreless first quarter with 22 points — including eight in the pivotal run that spanned the third and fourth quarters and flipped the game.

“It was incredible,” Durant said. “It was amazing to have him out there. I just missed his presence around the locker room, his energy, his vibe around the team. And then on top of [that], his game is just so beautiful. He makes the game easier for everybody out there.”

The Nets surrendered the most points they’d allowed all season through a half (down 73-60) and through three quarters (trailing 101-94).

But after allowing .554 shooting through three quarters, they held the Pacers to 5 of 18 in the final period and 0-for-9 from deep.

“I think we’ve shown that when guys are out of the lineup we can let our foot off the gas. It’s not giving away state secrets to say that,” Steve Nash said. “It took us to get in a deep hole before we showed the game the respect it deserved, the opposition.”

The Nets trailed by as much as 81-62, allowing Lance Stephenson to score 30 points (20 in the first quarter).

They were still down 101-86 following a Domantas Sabonis (32 points) three-point play with 1:32 left in the third when they ripped off a 25-5 spurt. Brooklyn held the Pacers to 1 of 11 shooting, finally getting physical.

Nic Claxton (12 points) fought for an offensive rebound and dunk to make it 105-102, and Patty Mills’ left-corner 3 put the Nets ahead 107-106 with 7:32 to play.

Consecutive Irving midrange pull-ups pushed it to 111-106.

Brooklyn took a 114-108 edge on a pair of foul shots by James Harden (18 points, six assists, five boards), and cruised from there.

DeAndre Bembry — out of the rotation at the start of the game — came off the bench with a dozen points on 5 of 5 shooting with five boards for a plus-24. But it was Irving’s night.

“Man, special. Feels like he’s been playing all season. He looked comfortable as usual, his pace, his rhythm, he looked like Kyrie,” Harden said. “He was chill, get into his normal pregame routine and just ready to go be beast out there on the court. Took him some time to get back into the flow of the game but once he did, especially when we needed it, he delivered.”