Kyrie Irving embracing pressure as Nets continue without Durant

Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving
Jan 19, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) dribbles the ball as Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) defends during the second quarter at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Extra pressure? That doesn’t bother Kyrie Irving one bit.

The Nets superstar is embracing the pressure that is coming along with driving the offense for Brooklyn while Kevin Durant is sidelined with an MCL sprain. Irving had a game-high 30 points in 38 minutes in Wednesday’s down to the wire win over the Washington Wizards.

“I like the pressure. I love the pressure,” Irving said. “I think It brings out the best in me personally. And then also I’m able to carry that energy with the team whether it be communicating with guys in short conversations on the floor or off the floor. Just trying to demand a responsibility from all of us, from myself first, but from all of us, that this isn’t going to be perfect. It’s not going to ever look perfect. This is just what we have, and we can’t replace anybody that’s out.

“But what we can do is fill up the stat sheet with the little things that may show up and things that may not show up. We’ll see where we are at the end of the game when we leave it all out there playing hard.”

Irving has carried the offense in Brooklyn’s first two games since Durant went down. His 30 on Wednesday was a season-high after putting up 27 points on Monday in Cleveland.

He’s averaged 38.8 minutes in those two games and he credited his short adjustment period to his dad, who Irving said helped teach him how to play basketball at different levels.

“Whether you’re playing an athletic style of game, a very skillful type of game. A defensive type of game,” Irving said. “He really just taught me to come in and be a great piece, be a great teammate. If that looks like you being very aggressive on the offensive end and you’re taking a majority of the offensive burden on your back then that’s one way. For me coming back I didn’t know how it was going to be. I just went in with an open mind, an open heart.”

Irving is two weeks into his return to the court after missing the first half of the season because of his unvaccinated status. The Nets allowed Irving to play part-time in December and he made his season debut in Indiana on Jan. 5.

Irving has started to find his rhythm more and more as the games have gone on and with Brooklyn in the middle of a four-game road trip has game has gotten more consistent. Since Irving can only play on the road because of his unvaccinated status, his outings have been a bit limited through the first two weeks.

With nine of the Nets’ next 12 games on the road, there will be plenty of time for Irving to play. The key for head coach Steve Nash is for Irving not to try to do too much on the court.

“I think Ky’s really trying to fit into the group and trying to get his rhythm back,” Nash said before Wednesday’s win. “Obviously you see moments where he’s outstanding and looks like he’s never left and there’s other moments where you’re like, ‘It’s a brand-new guy, playing with a bunch of guys he hasn’t played with,’ so that takes time as well. I don’t think he’s putting too much pressure on himself. We want him to be free. We want him to have this period where he cannot overburden himself to have to score or to have to do too much, just to feel his way into it.”

“He helps our team regardless of if he’s trying to get 40 a night or he’s just trying to fit in. He’s just such a good player and such a compliment to our group.”

Irving has enjoyed being back around the team after months away.  The seven-time all-star said that it felt “incredible” to be back and that he wasn’t taking any days for granted.

His teammates have felt equally as grateful for his return.

“Fun, fun,” LaMarcus Aldridge said when he was asked about reintegrating Irving back into to the team. “Knows the game. Plays the game the right way. Gets me so many midrange shots where the guy is not even close to me. I played the most with him last year, I was there five games, and my five games were more with him than anyone. So I feel like our chemistry kind of came in those five games. I feel like this year we kind of picked up where we left off, and I would say it’s been fun.

“He makes plays where you’re looking and you’re just like, ‘Man, you’re glad he’s on your team.'”