It looked as though it was going to be another one of those nights for the Nets. Lance Stephenson was on his way to a 30 point night, and Brooklyn found itself down by 19 in the second half to the Indiana Pacers.
Then, late in the third the Nets found their legs, sparked by Kyrie Irving and the rest of their “Big Three,” to come from behind for a 129-121 win over the Pacers. The win snapped a season-high three-game losing streak and ushered in the return of Irving on a positive note.
“It took us to get in a deep hole before we showed the game the respect it deserved,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “At that point now we have confidence. They can see a big win. We dug ourselves a big hole, not only on the scoreboard but in momentum. We showed character to fight back. We showed a ton of energy to win the game, but that type of start that we had in the first half cannot be a constant for us.”
All eyes had been on Wednesday’s meeting between the Nets and Pacers with Irving returning to the lineup, but it was Stephenson that took center stage in the first half. Stephenson put up 20 points off the bench for the Pacers, who exploited a poor defensive effort through the first two quarters by the Nets.
Brooklyn surrendered 73 points in the first half and allowed 101 by the end of the third quarter. Both were season highs in points allowed in a half and through three quarters.
Indiana had put up 94 through 48 minutes the night before against the New York Knicks.
However, Brooklyn turned things around late in the third quarter and took it in to the game’s final frame with a 25-8 run. The Nets scored eight unanswered points to close out the third, with Irving knocking down a buzzer-beating jump shot.
It was a Patty Mills’ left-corner three-pointer with 7:32 left in the game that gave the Nets a 107-106 lead, their first since the first quarter.
“I think it was defense more than anything,” Kevin Durant said about what led to the Nets falling behind early. “Lance Stephenson came in and gave them 20 points the first quarter. That set the tone fore them and the rest of them felt comfortable knocking down shots. You get a 10-point lead and those shots that you’re shooting are going a little bit easier. When we cut the lead to 5, 4, 6, even when we took the lead some of those shots that they were shooting earlier in the game weren’t falling.”
Durant finished the night with a team-high 39 points on 15-of-24 shooting for the Nets. Irving in his first game back had 22 points in 32 minutes on the court.
Wednesday marked the first time that Irving had been on the court with Durant and James Harden since Game 1 of the Nets series with the Milwaukee Bucks last season.
“It looked like he’s been playing all season,” Harden said about Irving’s performance. “He looked comfortable as usual. His pace, his rhythm. It looked like Kyrie. We definitely needed him. It feltgood to have him on the court. Our spirit, our energy is better. Felt really good.”
The Nets “Big Three” have been limited on their appearances together since James Harden joined the organization via trade last season. Irving, Harden and Durant have only played together in 14 of a possible 116 games, which included playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Irving was greeted with a mix of cheers and boos when he was introduced pregame in Indiana, according to video posted to social media.
Smattering of cheers and some boos for Kyrie Irving, introduced for the first time this season in Indiana. pic.twitter.com/lfdw9ffxZj
— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) January 6, 2022
The seven-time NBA All-Star started the night off slow missing his first shot of the game and eventually scored his first bucket of the year one minute into the second quarter. Irving finished the first half with 8 points before coming alive during the Nets second-half comeback.
Irving knocked down two consecutive shots in the fourth quarter following Mills’ go-ahead three-pointer.
“I’ve had a lot of debuts, but nothing comes close to this one. It just meant a little bit more” Irving said. “I think in the first possession when I shot that shot I was so caught up in just making my first two points. I was so nervous, and naturally, as a performer I still get nervous. That first shot, man, I wanted that to go in and then I settled down closer to the second half.
“Once I came back out and said ‘whatever is needed out there I’m just going to do.’ I knew everyone is going to follow suit like they’ve been doing all season.”