Brooklyn Boro

Even in defeat, Kyrie glad to be back

Unvaccinated Irving returns to Brooklyn hardwood

March 29, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Kyrie Irving didn’t get the thing he wanted most at Downtown’s Barclays Center Sunday evening.

That would have been a win.

Yet, even following the Brooklyn Nets’ 119-110 loss to Charlotte, Irving explained how encouraging it was to be back with his teammates playing in our borough.

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“I was just trying to ground myself as much as possible today,” Irving said after putting up 16 points and handing out 11 assists vs. the Hornets.

“And just prepare for the warm reception from a lot of supporters of the organization, of me, just the journey thus far. So I don’t take it for granted what happened tonight; it was historic. I’m grateful I got a chance to be out there with my brothers and just leave it all out there.”

Irving, who remains unvaccinated, will now be allowed to play anywhere he wants with his teammates, except maybe Toronto, as the postseason approaches.

At 39-38, the Nets are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, meaning if the season ends without them advancing as far as sixth place, they will be relegated to a four-team play-in tournament just to reach the postseason.

Brooklyn will play five of its final seven regular-season contests at Barclays, including Tuesday night’s scheduled showdown with Detroit.

Nets head coach Steve Nash and superstar Kevin Durant are both pleased that the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving is allowed to play in Brooklyn again. AP Photo by John Minchillo

Irving, who was not been able to play here due to New York City’s recently altered COVID-19 protocols for private businesses, is expected to be back at it here in Brooklyn.

“It was great to see him out there,” Nets superstar Kevin Durant said. “Good to see the fans excited for him. Unfortunately, we took the L, though. But we move forward knowing that we have him here. Build on what we have and try to get a win next game.”

Though Brooklyn’s first-ever NBA title is tops on the agenda going forward, Irving feels he accomplished a lot simply by refusing to get vaxxed and sticking to his guns thereafter.

“I made it very clear it was never just about me,” he intimated. “I think for my own legacy, that’s to be written by all those that I impact and all those that impact me, and it’s far bigger than just a basketball game. But when I’m in this locker room, I get a chance to perform with a bunch of guys that are selfless and are sacrificing just as much as I am. It makes it worthwhile. …

“The point of this season for me was never to just take a stand. It was really to make sure that I’m standing on what I believe in, in freedom. Freedom. I don’t think that’s a word that gets defined enough in our society. About the freedom to make choices with your life without someone telling you what the f— to do.”

The Nets were 3 1/2 games out of an automatic first-round playoff spot entering Tuesday’s clash with the Pistons.

They need to win as many games as possible down the stretch to avert being knocked out before they even get a chance to get in a best-of-7.

Previously relegated to watching from the stands at Barclays, Kyrie Irving should be in uniform Tuesday night when the Nets host Detroit. AP Photo by Seth Wenig

But with Irving back in the fold, anything is possible again for these Nets. Even if it takes a few games for the mercurial playmaker to find his groove at Barclays.

“Not the result we wanted,” Irving re-iterated after Sunday’s defeat. “I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted. Basically none of the things I had hoped for going well tonight, it just didn’t happen.

“And that’s just the flow of basketball. Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, it felt OK, but just the jump shot wasn’t falling tonight. We weren’t hitting shots. So not the result we wanted, but definitely grateful that we were part of history tonight and I got to do it here.”

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