The Brooklyn Nets' newest part-time employee was back to work on Wednesday.
Kyrie Irving made his season debut during the Nets' 129-121 victory over the Indiana Pacers after he missed the first 35 games of the season. Irving scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Nets erase what had been a 19-point deficit.
Irving, who is not vaccinated for COVID-19, is not eligible to play in Brooklyn's home games under the New York City vaccinate mandate. The Nets initially decided to keep Irving away from the team rather than have him play part-time. That changed after the team suffered a COVID outbreak, forcing Kevin Durant and James Harden to play big minutes, leading to the Nets' decision to allow Irving to play road games in cities without a vaccine mandate.
After the game, Irving was asked whether his stance on the vaccine has changed.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time," Irving said. "Like I said earlier in the season, it's not an ideal situation and I'm always praying that things get figured out and we're able to come to some collective agreement whether it be with the league or just things that are going on that can help kind of ease what we're all dealing with, with COVID and the vaccine. I think everybody's feeling it. So, I don't want to make it simply about me and simply about someone lessening the rules for me. I know what the consequences were, I still know what they are. But right now, I'm just going to take it one day at at time and just enjoy this time that I get to play with my guys. However it looks later in the season then we'll address it then."
It was the just the 15th game that Irving, Durant and Harden were on the court together, and first since June 5, 2021, when the Nets faced the Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It was a slow start for Irving, who took and missed the first shot of the game. He went scoreless in the first after shooting 0-for-3 from the field and had two turnovers in the quarter. It was Pacers guard and Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson, fresh off signing a 10-day contract to return to Indiana, who stole the show early. Stephenson scored 20 straight points for the Pacers over six minutes in the first quarter, helping the Pacers take a 37-32 lead.
Irving's first bucket came on a pull-up jumper in the paint early in the second quarter.
He went on to score eight points over a two-minute span, capped when he grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball down court, split two defenders and hit a runner off glass.
The Nets trailed by as many as 19 in the third before Irving capped an 8-0 run with a jumper at the buzzer to pull Brooklyn within 101-94 heading into the fourth.
After Patty Mills hit a three to put the Nets in front, Irving drained a pair of jumpers to push the lead to 111-106 with 6:14 remaining. Back-to-back drives by Irving later in the quarter increased the lead to double figures, helping to seal the comeback win.
Irving finished with 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting in 32 minutes. He added four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
"I've had a lot of debuts but nothing comes close to this one," Irving said. "It meant a little bit more just because at this stage, taking off eight months or being out of the game for eight months and coming back in, there's so much uncertainty. How many minutes? What's the flow of the game going to be like? How are my teammates going to feel? What's the game flow going to be? You just don't have any idea. So I went in with an open mind set just to ground myself, be present and do whatever it takes to win."
Durant led the Nets with 39 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Harden added 18 points, six assists and five rebounds.
The Nets return home to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, two games Irving will not be permitted to play in. The next game Irving is eligible to play in is on Monday in Portland against the Trail Blazers.