Nets’ Kyrie Irving gets thunderous ovation in first game back at Barclays Center

Brooklyn was abuzz on Sunday evening, and it had nothing to do with the Hornets swarming into town.

Nets star Kyrie Irving received thunderous applause when he was introduced in the home lineup for the first time since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bucks on June 7 of last year after sitting out all previous games at Barclays Center this season due to his unvaccinated status until Mayor Eric Adams finally lifted the private-sector mandate last week.

“It’s always good to be home,” Irving said as he walked into the arena about two hours before tipoff.

The seven-time All-Star had expressed excitement for this long-awaited Brooklyn appearance ahead of Saturday’s game in Miami, saying he was “pinching himself” since Adams announced the Emergency Executive Order 62 on Thursday, granting unvaccinated New York City athletes an exemption from the city’s private-sector COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Nets coach Steve Nash had to feel the same way, nearing the end of a disjointed season in which he’s employed more than 40 different starting lineups, resulting in a 39-35 record — and the No. 8 play-in position in the Eastern Conference — with eight to play beginning with Sunday’s contest.

“It’s been great to be able to have some bonus energy, Ky’s first game at home this year,” Nash said before the game. “Obviously the guys have to lock in tonight. We got back [from Miami] at four in the morning and you got to be professional and find it some way.

Kyrie Irving hug his son before his first game back at Barclays Center on Sunday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post
Nets
Kyrie Irving warms up at Barclays Center on Sunday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“If we get a little added energy from the crowd and from Kyrie’s first game at home, that’d be great, but we can’t rely on that. We’ve got to come with our mentality and our togetherness and play well.”

Irving is averaging 27.7 points over 21 road appearances this season, including 50 in Charlotte on March 8. He had been slated to miss seven of the Nets’ final eight games due to the previous mandates. But these changes will enable Nash to start Irving and Kevin Durant together down this final stretch in an attempt to solidify the team’s playoff positioning.

Ben Simmons, acquired at the trade deadline from the 76ers in the James Harden blockbuster, still hasn’t made his team debut while dealing with a back injury.

“I’m very hesitant to pretend that [stability] is just going to be the way it is. But it would be great if we could have some continuity here and make the most of these remaining games so that we can put ourselves further along and be more prepared and more cohesion and understanding of our style of play together,” Nash said. “The further we get there, I think it’s paramount for our success or opportunity to play well in the playoffs.

“I think we just have to be locked in to the moment.”

Nets
Kyrie Irving
NBAE via Getty Images

Durant, who missed nearly two months this season with a knee injury, also said the Nets need to maintain their defensive intensity and can’t expect Irving’s increased availability to be the cure-all for what has been a rocky regular season.

“We don’t want to rely just on that. I think we want to kind of create our own energy within the locker room and also build on what the crowd is going to bring us, too,” Durant said after Saturday’s win in Miami. “So we can’t just rely on Ky being back. We got to approach this game with the same type of intensity as we did [Saturday].

“Guys were thinking about this game [Friday] night before bed. So to wake up and shoot around with that same attitude. Kind of bled over into the game. We need that type of focus.”

.

Leave a Comment