Brooklyn was bustling Sunday night, and it had nothing to do with the Hornets pouring into town.
Nets star Kyrie Irving received a thunderous round of applause when he was included 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 missing all previous games this season at the Barclays Center due to his had to suspend unvaccinated status until Mayor Eric Adams finally rescinded the private sector mandate last week.
“It’s always good to be home,” Irving said as he entered the arena about two hours before the start.
The seven-time All-Star had expressed excitement at this long-awaited appearance in Brooklyn ahead of Saturday’s game in Miami, saying he was “pinching himself” since Adams announced Thursday’s Emergency Executive Order 62, the unvaccinated New York athletes granted an exemption from the city’s private-sector COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Nets coach Steve Nash must have felt the same way as he neared the end of a disjointed season that included more than 40 different starting lineups, resulting in a 39-35 record — and the No. 8 in the Eastern Conference — to play at eight starting Sunday’s contest.
“It was great to have some extra energy, Ky’s first game at home this year,” Nash said before the game. “Of course the boys have to lock up tonight. We returned [from Miami] at four in the morning and you have to be professional and find it somehow.
“If we can get a little extra energy from the crowd and from Kyrie’s first home game that would be great, but we can’t count on that. We have to come with our mentality and our team spirit and play well.”
Irving is averaging 27.7 points in 21 appearances on the road this season, including 50 in Charlotte on March 8. Previous mandates saw him miss seven of the Nets’ last eight games. But those changes will allow Nash to start Irving and Kevin Durant together at this final stretch to try and solidify the team’s playoff positioning.
Ben Simmons, who was acquired at the close of trade by the 76ers in James Harden’s blockbuster, has still not made his team debut while dealing with a back injury.
“I am very hesitant to do so [stability] will just 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 we can continue to develop and be better prepared and have more cohesion and understanding of our shared style of play,” Nash said. “The further we get there, I think it’s more important to our success or our chance to play well in the playoffs.
“I think we just have to be committed to the moment.”
Durant, who was out for almost 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 panacea for a rocky regular season.
“We don’t want to rely on that. I think we want to create our own energy in the locker room and also build on what the audience will bring us,” Durant said after Saturday’s win in Miami. “So we can’t count on Ky to be back. We have to approach this game with the same intensity as we did [Saturday].
“The boys thought about this game [Friday] night before bed. So wake up and shoot around with the same attitude. Kind of bled into the game. We need that kind of focus.”
https://nypost.com/2022/03/27/nets-kyrie-irving-gets-thunderous-ovation-in-first-game-back-at-barclays-center/ Nets’ Kyrie Irving gets a thunderous ovation in the first game at the Barclays Center