Why Kyrie Irving’s standout performances still only tease the Nets

Every moment of glory is followed by resignation.

The Nets can only enjoy a 50-point Kyrie Irving masterpiece before they revisit the schedule. A defensively outstanding play from Irving is proof of what the Nets season can be — and then the layoff is a reminder of what the Nets season was.

At least so far it was a joke.

Irving was a different kind of spectacle on Thursday 129-100 destruction of the 76s, in which he scored 22 points but was more impressive on the other side of the pitch. He shadowed James Harden for much of the game, and the pair’s practice time together showed it. Apparently every move Harden Irving made was poised, confining The Beard to his worst play since the trade that sent him from Brooklyn to Philadelphia.

By dismantling yet another contender, the Nets offered a tantalizing glimpse of the title-winning team they can be even before Ben Simmons makes his debut. And yet, barring a late-season rule change from the mayor or a change in point guard mindset, Irving can only touch the court in four of the Nets’ remaining 15 games before the postseason. He won’t play on Sunday when the Nets host the Knicks and is eligible for one game in the next five.

Kyrie Irving guards James Harden in the Nets' win over the 76ers.
Kyrie Irving guards James Harden in the Nets’ win over the 76ers.
USA TODAY sports

Irving, of course, is unvaccinated and won’t be able to attend home games — or games at the Garden, where the Nets are visiting on April 6, or games in Toronto, which is popping up as a possible game target. He has shown no willingness to be persuaded into jabs and has cited beliefs he says are greater than basketball.

The networks have hoped the private-sector mandate that will not allow Irving to step into the plaza at Barclays Center will be lifted, but there was no movement even after Mayor Adams on Monday lifted the city’s vaccinating mandate for shops, restaurants and Indoor events had lifted.

There was no indication from Adams that the private sector’s mandate would change any time soon.

“The status quo remains,” a source told the Post Friday, with less than a month into the regular season.

“It’s not really in our control, so we leave it to the mayor and wait patiently,” Nets coach Steve Nash said last month.

Without movement, every sweet game Irving plays becomes bittersweet. On Thursday, many of those plays came defensively.

One of the greatest ball handlers in NBA history, Irving has never been known for taking down opponents, but he knows the game and knows opponent tendencies. The Nets generally turn on picks, but Irving waved it off and bonded closely with a former teammate who had worked his way out.

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving
USA TODAY sports

What Irving lacked in weight he made up for in speed, showing good anticipation and smashing the ball away from Harden and out wide early in the first quarter.

When Irving had the matchup, Harden shot 1-of-7 for three points with three assists and a turnover — part of a nightmare, 3-on-17 night for Harden.

“Just accept the assignment and do what I can to make it difficult for him. Obviously James isn’t always going to shoot like that,” Irving said of Harden, who didn’t play the fourth quarter because they were buried that way. “But I just wanted to make it tough, being in his airspace.”

If Kevin Durant played like perhaps the best player in the world in a month he’s returned since returning from injury, Irving was an underrated two-way full-time superstar and Simmons returned to play at least an excellent defense of The The path of the nets to the final – regardless of their starting position – would be clear.

But nothing is clear this season with Irving, who could potentially be forced to watch a few play-in games remotely. If the eighth-place Nets and seventh-place Raptors retain their spots, the Nets would travel to Canada without Irving for a seventh-place game showdown. If Brooklyn lost that game, it would host the winner of the 9-10 game — at the moment, the Hornets and Hawks — and barring a rule or vaccination change, Irving couldn’t help the Nets in a win-or-go. domestic situation.

Every beautiful swimmer or skillful play Irving makes inspires the team and fan base. But the excitement turns to realization soon enough.

— Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks Why Kyrie Irving’s standout performances still only tease the Nets


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