Kyrie Irving delivers once again as the Brooklyn Nets continue to climb out of the pitfalls of losing Kevin Durant to another MCL injury.
Irving led the Nets’ thrilling comeback to take down the defending champion Golden State Warriors on the road, 120-116, Sunday for their second straight win after losing the first four games without Durant.
The win pulled them into a share of the third seed with the Milwaukee Bucks (29-17) in the bunched-up Eastern Conference and boosted their confidence to weather Durant’s absence unlike last season.
And it’s because of Irving’s presence.
Irving scored a game-high 38 points on 12 of 22 shooting and helped slow down Stephen Curry (26 points on 7 of 16 shooting) on the defensive end. He added nine assists, the last one setting up Royce O’Neale for the go-ahead triple with 28.5 seconds left before sealing the win with two free throws.
“They did a great job of staying on my body, keeping the game physical, making it tough,” Irving said. “I felt like my teammates had a lot of great looks, drawing the defense, drawing two, three to lose their man. Royce being wide open, I felt like that was the best shot for our team, so I gave up the ball, trusted him to make it, and luckily, it went in.”
It was a sign of growth and leadership for Irving, who was criticized for lacking it during his initial years in Brooklyn and a past stint in Boston.
“It doesn’t matter who has the ball in their hands as long as they’re being aggressive [and] it’s the best shot for our team,” Irving said. “Objectively, this team sport is to win basketball games, not identify one person to carry everybody every single night … it’s just a team attitude, team atmosphere, and living with the results.”
The 30-year-old Nets star averaged 43.0 points on a ridiculous 59/59/887 shooting split, 9.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists over the Nets’ last two wins after initially struggling without Durant.
Irving only averaged 19.5 points on 36 percent shooting in the Nets’ first two losses since the Durant injury. He skipped their fourth straight loss with a right calf soreness in San Antonio. The one-game rest worked wonders for Irving, who exploded for 30 and 48 points against the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz upon his return.
The last two games have silenced his critics and proved that Irving is still capable to play as alpha.
“That’s what he does,” O’Neale said after their win in Utah. “Right now, he’s leading us, and we follow his lead. We’re trusting him. He’s trusting us. So to see him go off like that is always special. You could just tell he had it going.”
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