In Kyrie Irving‘s first game back with the Nets — Sunday’s 127-115 win over the Memphis Grizzlies — from an eight-game suspension, he did not need long to get back into his groove. A minute and 19 seconds through the first quarter, Kevin Durant assisted Irving on his first shot attempt and he drilled a triple to put the Nets up, 6-3.
Irving started and scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including a 2-for-5 clip from deep, in 26 minutes. His overall performance was mixed (four turnovers, no assists) as he played for the first time since Nov. 1 — a 108-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls — but the Nets welcomed him back with open arms.
“It’s Kyrie,” said Ben Simmons. “He’s so talented. Obviously, he’s working on the handle again — of trying to get a handle on the ball — but he’s so talented. It’s easy to play with him. Obviously, it’s going to take a little bit of time to get adjusted. But we’re happy to have him back.”
During a media availability earlier Sunday, Irving echoed what he told SNY in an exclusive interview over the weekend and apologized to the Jewish community for sharing on Twitter a film with antisemitic material.
In the postgame news conference, Irving declined to delve into the matter further and kept the focus on perhaps the Nets’ best collective performance of the early season.
He was asked twice after the game about dozens of members of a group identified as Israel United in Christ that gathered outside of Barclays Center Sunday evening, prior to tipoff of his return.
Irving said both times that he just wanted to talk about basketball.
The answers aligned with an approach that Jacque Vaughn shared in his own postgame news conference.
“At the end of the day, now, it’s about hooping,” Vaughn said of what he told Irving. “And I used that word right there that, from this day on, that’s what we’re going to be about. Basketball is factual. You get the rebound? That’s a fact. You box out? That’s a fact. You make the shot? That’s a fact. And so, we’re going to make this thing factual. It’s going to be about basketball, and we’ll live in that space.”
After a 1-5 start to the season, the Nets are a game away from the .500 mark.
Brooklyn was 2-6 after the aforementioned loss to the Bulls and went 5-3 in Irving’s absence.
How does Irving fit back in?
“Just trust what Jacque has going on, and in terms of leading our coaching staff, and then us as players just going out there and having fun — not putting too much pressure on ourselves,” Irving said. “But it felt good to get this game out of the way, and now we can move forward with the rest of the season.”
This week’s three-game road trip to the Philadelphia 76ers (Tuesday), Toronto Raptors (Wednesday) and Indiana Pacers (Friday) offers a glimpse into what that will look like.
“It’s always good to be a whole group,” Durant said. “We had so many guys in and out. … We went 10 deep, almost, tonight. So that’s a good sign, that we can play multiple guys. So we just keep building, man. That’s all it’s about — keep building every day. Coach is doing a good job of letting us see what we need to do on film but also, in practice, walking through some stuff to make it easier for us.
“So it’s going to be a grind, as we continue to push forward, now that we’ve got everybody back.”
HOPEFUL FOR PEACE
Michael Dube was in Barclays Center for Irving’s last game before the point guard was suspended by the Nets for an initial failure to fully denounce the antisemitic material in the film that he shared online.
Dube was courtside with a group of fans wearing t-shirts that said FIGHT ANTISEMITISM on Nov. 1. He said then that he hoped that the issues that began with Irving’s post would end with positive dialogue between communities.
Dube was back at Barclays on Sunday night in Irving’s first game since his team-issued suspension and public apology.
Dube, who was at Barclays with a group attending the game via Shared Seats, a charity he works with, still remains hopeful that Irving will choose to use his platform to unite.
“A lot has happened in the three weeks since that night when this story broke,” Dubes said. “I was hopeful then and I am hopeful now. There are lots of things we have to work on as a society. Tolerance and compassion are two of the big ones. I choose to look at the opportunities to do good in every situation. I wish Kyrie the absolute best. He’s a phenomenal player, I am still a fan and I am hopeful that his apology was sincere and that going forward he will choose to use his enormous platform to help promote peace and kindness between all communities.”