So the grand experiment begins.
What was originally supposed to be the Big 3 officially morphed into the Big 2.5 Wednesday night in Indianapolis as Kyrie Irving took the court for the first time this season alongside All-Star Nets teammates James Harden and Kevin Durant.
Though the early returns fell far short of spectacular, they were good enough for the Nets to end a three-game losing streak and defeat a tired and beat-up Indiana team, 129-121.
Looking at the way Irving played after not seeing any court time since Game 4 of the second round of the playoffs last season, it becomes a little easier to see why the Nets reversed their position and decided to try to play with a part-time point guard.
Irving, who can’t play in New York or Toronto because of his unvaccinated status, helped lead the Nets out of a 19-point hole by scoring 22 points in 32 minutes. His biggest shot came at the end of the third when he hit a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to cap an 8-0 run and give the Nets momentum.
"It felt amazing man," Irving said after the game. "Long time coming. It’s been months."
Nets coach Steve Nash said it was good to have Irving back with the team. "It was an opportunity, to bring him back in the fold and use a resource that we weren’t using," Nash said.
A resource they weren’t using? That’s one way to view it.
Having Irving on your roster but not using him is sort of like having a fancy sports car that you don’t drive because the headlights don’t work. And then, voila!, one day you realize that maybe you could just drive the car during the day.
It doesn’t matter that it would be a lot easier on everyone if you just got the headlights fixed. It’s not going to happen that way. And so the Nets are going to go forward with a part-time player who, including Wednesday night’s game in Indiana, will be eligible to play in 22 of the Nets’ 47 remaining regular-season games.
In a way, it’s kind of thrilling. Nothing exactly like this has ever happened before. The closest thing was when Bill Walton played mostly weekends for the San Diego Clippers in 1982-83 while attending law school at Stanford. The difference is Walton was hampered by foot injuries and the Clippers were a bad team.
Irving is healthy and the Nets are playing for a championship. The Nets are going to try to win it all with a part-time superstar. And they may have the talent to pull it off. With the Big 2.5, they have one of the more accomplished groups in the history of the game. Heading into the Indiana game, Durant, Harden and Irving had played together only 14 times and the Nets were 11-3 in those games. It is not going to be uncomplicated, but what involving Irving ever is?
The Nets are going to have to get used to playing two different ways, with one lineup in New York and Toronto and one lineup everywhere else. Among the decisions Nash will have to make is whether he starts Patty Mills just at home or whether he decides to start someone else and keep Mills coming off the bench to give some continuity to that group.
In Nash’s favor is the fact he coached his team through all kinds of injury and COVID situations and isn’t shy about shuffling his starters.
Wednesday night’s starting group of Irving, Durant, Harden, David Duke Jr. and Nic Claxton was their 16th starting lineup this season.
The Nets have more than half of the season to get used to the situation. But, come playoff time, things could get really interesting. Are they really going to want homecourt advantage? And what the heck happens if they get into a playoff series with Toronto or, dare we say it, the Knicks? Irving wouldn’t be eligible to play at all. Fasten your seat belt. Because only one thing is for sure. This could be one heck of a ride.