Taking the microphone during introductions to address the home crowd for the first time as a member of the Nets in the season opener Wednesday night at Barclays Center, Kyrie Irving said he was “home” and got a little choked up for a moment at the thought. But the rest of the evening was nothing short of a brilliant star turn for Irving.
He scored 50 points, brought the Nets from 18 points behind in the second quarter to lead by eight in the fourth period, and Irving scored nine straight points down the stretch as the Nets took a three-point lead in regulation only to see Karl-Anthony Towns hit a three to tie the game with 1:06 left and send it to overtime.
The only thing Irving didn’t do was pull a victory out of the fire, slipping and missing his final shot against defender Josh Okogie just before the buzzer ended a heart-palpitating 127-126 loss to the Timberwolves.
Reliving the final errant shot, Irving shook his head and said, “I fell. I was in the process of making another move. I just lost my footing, lost my balance. I give credit to him [Okogie], but losing my balance made a big difference in that.”
Irving’s 17-for-33 shooting, included a 7-for-14 effort from three-point range, and he added eight rebounds and seven assists. The Nets also got 20 points from Caris LeVert and 15 points and 11 rebounds from Taurean Prince but shot a miserable 57.7 percent at the foul line (15 of 26). Towns topped the T-Wolves with 36 points and 14 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 21 points., including the final four in the last 1:19.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson marveled at the play of Irving, who became the seventh player in franchise history to reach the 50-point plateau. “He was outstanding,” Atkinson said. “Obviously, a great debut for him. Just disappointing we made such a big hole for us. The first half, we were completely out of sync. We definitely saw the effects of guys not playing together.”
Atkinson was emphatic in saying the game was lost when the Nets fell behind by 18 in the second period, not on Irving’s final shot. Irving scored 25 first-half points, but when he sat down after the first nine minutes, the Nets trailed by one. When he returned with eight minutes left in the first half, they trailed by 18 after being outscored 26-9.
They came back to lead by eight in the fourth period but fell behind again by four. With 2:18 left in regulation, Irving hit a go-ahead three to start a stretch where he scored nine straight points, including a three for a 115-112 lead with 1:16 left. But after Towns tied it, Jarrett Allen missed a pair of foul shots with 5.7 seconds left, and the game went to overtime, where Irving scored seven of the Nets’ 11 points.
Asked about the meaning of scoring 50 in his Nets debut, Irving smiled and said, “The job wasn’t done, so that 50 just goes into another few numbers . . . it holds value, but not really when you don’t get a win.”
The game took place on the anniversary of the death of his grandfather, but Irving said he made a conscious choice to be happy and grateful for this new opportunity. “He was there with me,” Irving said of his grandfather.
Turning to how his teammates responded when he missed the final shot, Irving added, “You saw my teammates run all the way down from the bench and surround me with a bunch of love, like, ‘We got you.’ There’s no better feeling than that, having everybody come pick you up. Now, I’m just looking forward to growing with them moving forward.”
s in front at 93-88.