Kyrie Irving was back on the court for the Brooklyn Nets, and back on the court in Cleveland for just the second time since he left the Cavaliers in a trade to Boston in 2017. In Wednesday night’s double-overtime loss to the Cavs, Irving returned after two weeks away with 37 points on 15-of-28 shooting.
“Always playing the game that I love, I am grateful,” said Irving. “I never take it for granted. Then also to be playing with Kevin Durant, James Harden, just those names alone right now just were having some fun. But it is not just about us and I always say that. We will have good nights, we will have great nights but it is how we galvanize this group together and how we sacrifice and compromise for the greater good. That still remains to be seen, obviously one game is out the way, but I am excited for what’s to come.”
Irving and the Nets will be taking on the Cavaliers again on Friday night in the second part of a two-game road set. It will be the continuation of the adjustment to a new look for the Nets with the trio of Irving, Harden, and Durant. They’re all-in on this big three, and that was the case on Wednesday as Irving played 48 minutes and Durant and Harden 50 each. While Brooklyn went with nine players in the rotation, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Reggie Perry, and Bruce Brown combined to play just 29 minutes.
In addition to Irving’s 37 points, Durant had 38 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, and four blocks, while Harden put up his second triple-double in three games as a Net with 21 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. Harden is averaging 12.7 assists so far with Brooklyn.
“It felt right,” said Durant. “It felt like we belonged together. It felt like this journey together is going to be fun. It was a tough first start. It was an up and down game for us, but I like where we are.”
“Communication, that’s it,” said Harden. “We all have great skill sets. It’s just communication of where we want each other to be. When things are going great and things are going bad, and that’s all that matters. If we’re on the same page, we have that communication, we have a very good chance of winning the majority of our games.”
Even with James Harden having just arrived, even with Kyrie Irving having missed two weeks and seven games, the Brooklyn Nets have elite offensive numbers that include their full 16 games: third in points per game (120.3), first in field goal percentage (49.1), fourth in 3-point percentage (40.0), and fifth in offensive rating (114.5).
But the defense has been going in the other direction, and Wednesday night was probably the low point. The Nets ranked as high as third in the league in defensive rating through 10 games (105.5), but they’ve dropped to 21st (110.6) after posting a 118.2 defensive efficiency over their last five games.
“We had breakdowns all over the place,” said head coach Steve Nash. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do. We know that. We know that we have a very offensive team right now, so we have to find ways to defend, to get connected, to be on the same page, and that’s gonna take some time. It’s definitely early as far as this new team and this new group, learning to defend together and how we can be effective defensively. That’s gotta be one of our, part of our game that we’re gonna focus on the most going forward.”
GOOD FROM THREE
As noted, the Nets are fourth in the league in shooting 40.0 percent from 3-point range, with suspects both familiar and not connecting at rates beyond their career trends. Joe Harris is at 49.5 percent on 6.2 attempts per game, higher than the 47.4 that he led the league with in 2018-19. Kevin Durant, a career 38.8 percent 3-point shooter, is shooting 46.6 percent on 6.1 attempts per game.
Then there’s forward Jeff Green, a career 33.7 percent shooter from deep, shooting 51.1 percent after making 14-of-21 over the last five games.
Wednesday’s debut of the Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving combination was the most-viewed YES Network telecast of a Nets game in six years in the New York DMA, with an average of 159,000 total viewers, peaking at 240,000 viewers during the 9:15 to 9:30 time period. Through that game, the network’s average viewership has increased 89 percent compared to last season.
The game was also the most-viewed game in the United States and the fourth most-viewed game globally this season.
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS
Cleveland brought essentially the NBA’s worst offense into Wednesday’s game against the Nets, something James Harden noted afterwards, and put up 113 points in regulation and shot 51.4 percent overall and 50.0 percent from 3-point range through the full double-overtime game, led by Collin Sexton’s 42 points on 16-of-29 shooting. The Cavs made extensive use of newly arrived Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, with each playing 31 minutes while making their Cleveland debuts against their former team. Prince had 17 points while making 3-of-5 3-pointers, while Allen had 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.