Rust, handles and a buzzer-beater: Night 1 of Kyrie Irving’s unprecedented part-time return

  • NBA writer for ESPN.com since 2008
  • Former contributor and editor at NPR

After months of public debate, internal machinations and leaguewide speculation, Kyrie Irving finally made his inaugural appearance of the season Wednesday night in the Brooklyn Nets’ 129-121 win at the Indiana Pacers. Unvaccinated against COVID-19, in a league being ravaged by a new wave of infections, he got clearance from his team to suit up — and the early returns were promising for Brooklyn. In the words of Nets coach Steve Nash, “He looks like himself.”

With Irving’s addition to Brooklyn’s active roster, a presumptive preseason favorite now has its star cluster intact, a rarity for a Nets’ squad whose tantalizing potential has yet to be realized, much less healthy over the past year.

“I’ve had a lot of debuts, but nothing comes close to this one,” Irving said.

Irving’s night began with a layer of rust. Working off a pick-and-roll set called from the sideline on the game’s first possession — “a welcome back gift,” according to Nash — Irving fired a mid-range jumper that grazed the front rim. For his second field goal attempt, he unleashed a nasty crossover to find a large swath of space, only to have his shot swatted away by Pacers center Myles Turner.

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