Kyrie Irving was back at Barclays Center on Sunday afternoon.
No, New York City Mayor Eric Adams did not change his mind. The mandate stands. Irving, who is not vaccinated, still is not allowed to play in games in his home arena. However, he is allowed to attend them.
Sitting in a courtside seat directly across from the Nets’ bench, Irving cheered on teammate and good friend Kevin Durant as he scored a season-high 53 points to lead the Nets to a 110-107 win over the Knicks.
The weirdness of the whole spectacle proved to be too much for Durant. So after scoring the last seven points of the game, including a tiebreaking three-pointer, he made sure to make one final point in his postgame news conference.
"It just didn’t make any sense," Durant said while talking about the rule that keeps Irving from playing. "There’s unvaxxed people in this building already. We’ve got a guy who can come into the building — I guess, are they fearing our safety? I don’t get it. We’re all confused.
"Everybody in the world is confused at this point. Earlier on in the season, people didn’t understand what’s going on, but now it just looks stupid. So hopefully, Eric, you’ve got to figure this out."
The mayor, however, has shown no indication that he will reinterpret the private employer mandate that has kept Irving from playing at Barclays Center all season. At a news conference at a park on Sunday morning, Adams made that clear when he responded to a heckler chanting "Let Kyrie Play!"
"Kyrie can play tomorrow," Adams responded. "Get vaccinated."
Irving has made it clear that that’s not going to happen, which is looking more and more as if it could be a big problem for the Nets.
Without Irving and without Seth Curry, who was a last-minute scratch with a sore ankle, Durant had to be great in order for the Nets to beat a lottery-bound Knicks team. This is one reason why it is so hard to get a read on the Nets.
They do have the greatest player in the game in Durant, but he can’t be great every night. His one flaw is that he has proved himself to be somewhat fragile in the past. Against the Knicks on Sunday, he played 43 minutes.
"Obviously, we hope that we can keep him under 40," coach Steve Nash said. "Tonight, though, was one of those games where we just needed him. Seth going out. We had too many lineups without a shooter on the floor. Just makes it so difficult to score. So we rode Kevin a lot tonight. We needed all of it for the win."
When Irving and Durant are playing together, they are a force to be reckoned with, as they proved Thursday in rolling over a very good Philadelphia team.
Irving, however, is eligible to play in only four of the Nets’ remaining 14 games. The Nets (35-33) are in eighth place and would love to move up to sixth and get out of the play-in. That doesn’t seem very likely, however, given that they are 3 1⁄2 games behind the No. 6 Cavaliers.
As it currently stands, the Nets would play Toronto in the play-in game, meaning they would have to play without Irving, who is not eligible to play in Canada.
There was something incredibly surreal about Sunday’s game. As much as I agree with the mayor that it would just be easier if Irving got vaccinated, this rule as it is being interpreted and on display Sunday makes zero sense.
Irving was able to join his team in the locker room at halftime. He was able to sit among fans during the entire game.
Perhaps the mayor doesn’t want to make an exception for a celebrity athlete when the mandate still is in place for other workers.
But the optics are beyond strange — so much so that the usually apolitical Durant couldn’t help but weigh in.
"I don’t get it," he said. "At this point now, it feels like somebody’s trying to make a statement or a point to flex their authority, but everybody out here is looking for attention, and that’s what I feel the mayor wants right now is some attention. But he’ll figure it out soon. He better."