Kyrie Irving scores 50 as Nets end slide
Herculean effort moves Brooklyn into eighth place in East
Just because he’s unvaccinated doesn’t mean Kyrie Irving can’t get his shot.
The superstar point guard scored a season-high 50 points Tuesday night in Charlotte, lifting the previously slumping Brooklyn Nets to a 132-121 victory over the Hornets in front of 17,230 fans at the Spectrum Center.
“It felt like a must-win night,” said Irving, who is the 22nd player in NBA history with at least five 50-point games.
“I’m not saying the other nights didn’t feel like that, but you have to go into that deep place where you aren’t distracted by anything that is going on.”
Irving, who is ineligible to play at Barclays Center until he takes his first vaccine shot or New York City’s COVID-19 regulations are altered, shot an unconscious 15-of-19 from the field, including 9-of-12 from 3-point range.
The mercurial playmaker also drilled 11-of-13 free throws, grabbed three rebounds and handed out six assists in 38 scintillating minutes as the Nets (33-33) snapped a four-game losing streak, climbed back to .500 and moved a game past Charlotte (32-34) for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“It was special,” Nets sharpshooter Seth Curry said of Irving’s effort. “He made great plays all over the floor. He didn’t force it. Catch and shoot, off the dribble and got to the rim, too. We needed that Kyrie.”
Only the top 10 seeds in the East will qualify for the playoffs, with the bottom four engaging in a play-in tournament for the right to play in a first-round series.
Though they had lost 17 of their last 20 games, the Nets ran out to a 34-20 lead after one quarter and built a 34-point, second-half advantage before the Hornets closed to within 13 with under five minutes remaining.
Irving promptly answered with a quick jumper and Brooklyn was off and running again as it tries once again to build momentum for the final 16 regular-season games, beginning with Thursday’s visit to Philadelphia to take on former Net James Harden and the 76ers.
Andre Drummond had 20 points and 14 boards and Kevin Durant and Bruce Brown added 14 points apiece for Brooklyn, which will be back at Barclays Sunday at 1 p.m. to host the arch rival New York Knicks without Irving.
“Everything (Kyrie) does is so pure. It looked so easy tonight,” Durant said. “I looked up and he had 10 points and it felt like he had taken two shots.”
Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges scored 20 points each for the Hornets, who had a two-game winning streak snapped by Irving’s 75 percent shooting spree.
“He’s incredible. He’s a career highlight reel every time, every night,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash.
“We obviously have a special player on our hands and tonight, he was unbelievably efficient and difficult to defend. … Those were really big shots he made in the second half, but overall he’s just an incredible player, shot maker.”
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