Nets’ Irving laments brutal series sweep
Superstar guard acknowledges his part in Brooklyn collapse
Nets point guard Kyrie Irving spent most of this season as a pariah for those who believed he should get vaccinated, or as a hero to those who insisted on an individual’s right to medical privacy.
Now, everybody just wants to hear how Irving felt about it.
“I think it was just really heavy emotionally this season,” the mercurial point guard said after Brooklyn’s season ended with a Game 4 loss to Boston at Downtown’s Barclays Center on Monday night.
“We all felt it. I felt like I was letting the team down at a point where I wasn’t able to play,” he added. “We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. And I think it became a distraction at times. And as you see we just had some drastic changes.”
None more drastic than James Harden’s disillusionment with the situation as Irving was restriced to road games only due to New York City’s COVID-19 protocols.
After boasting the Eastern Conference’s best record on Jan. 22, the Nets, sans Kevin Durant due to a knee injury and minus Irving for home games in Brooklyn due to his non-vaxx status, lost 14 of 17 games.
Harden was carrying the load of three superstars, especially at home, and the Nets plummeted in the standings, settling for the No. 7 seed after Harden forced a trade-deadline deal to Philadelphia.
But Irving was brilliant once March rolled around, averaging 30 points per game for the month, including a franchise-record and career-best 60-point effort on March 15 in Orlando.
When Durant returned to full health and Irving was finally freed to play anywhere, the Nets appeared to find their groove, reeling off four straight wins to close the regular season before beating Cleveland here in Brooklyn in the NBA play-in tournament.
However, the Nets never clicked in the playoffs as Irving scored a game-high 39 points in a one-point Game 1 loss before averaging just over 15 points per contest for the remainder of the four-game sweep.
“That’s why I said it’s some added motivation when you get swept like this,” Irving pointed out. “Didn’t necessarily play as well as I would have liked, but now we just look for the future as a team and what we can accomplish for the next few years, and I get excited about that.”
Irving has already made his intentions clear to finish the mission in Brooklyn.
If he declines his $36.5 million player option for 2022-23, he can re-sign with the Nets for five years at $245 million.
“There’s no question about where I’m going and how this is going to happen,” Irving said. “I’m here with [Durant], but also I’m here to build a great team. I’ve averaged this many points, done this many things.
“Individually, been recognized for my greatness, but at this point in my career, I really just want to be part of a great team. And just dominate that way and not really focus on any individual accolades and achievements. Just really build something special — that’s my focus going into the summer is just building with my teammates.”
With Durant by his side, Irving believes the Nets can start fresh next year and seriously challenge for the franchise’s first-ever NBA title, something that has averted the superstar tandem during their first two years playing together.
“And hopefully we get to start from day one just as a squad and as a family and we just really worry about us,” Irving noted.
“Sometimes I feel like the noise on the external world, the outside noise, can seep in. I’m not the type of person to allow that to happen, so as we build together as a squad, I just think we need to be tougher mentally and just more honest about what we want to accomplish. And just stick to the goal, stick to the mission.”
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