Kyrie Irving graced the court for the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night for the first time all season, and he looked just like himself in the 129-121 win over the Indiana Pacers. Irving’s 22-point debut was the highlight of the evening for the Nets, but it was surprisingly overshadowed by the most unlikely 30-point performance of the season courtesy of Lance Stephenson.
Kyrie Irving shakes off early rust to put up 22-point debut
After missing the first 35 games of the year due to his decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, Irving returned to the lineup Wednesday night to make his season debut. He understandably had some rust to shake off early, as he missed his first few shot attempts and went scoreless in the first quarter.
But once he finally saw one go in, the floodgates opened up.
Irving finished the game with 22 points, four assists, three rebounds, and three steals in 32 minutes of action. He also made a handful of clutch buckets in the second half to help the Nets overcome a 19-point deficit and notch a comeback win on the road.
Kevin Durant, who poured in 39 points in the contest, sounded thrilled to have his teammate back.
“It was amazing to have him out there,” Durant said after the game, per ESPN. “I just missed his presence around the locker room, his energy, his vibe around the team. And then his game is just so beautiful. It makes the game so much easier for everybody out there. It was amazing to see him out on the floor again.”
Irving still won’t be able to play in home games due to New York City’s vaccine mandate, but he should give Brooklyn a much-needed boost on the road for the rest of the season.
Lance Stephenson overshadows Irving’s debut
All eyes were on Irving Wednesday night for his highly anticipated season debut, but Stephenson found a way to steal the show with an electric shooting performance in just his third game with the Pacers this year.
Stephenson signed a 10-day hardship deal with his old team over the weekend. After putting up just six and five points in his first two appearances with Indiana, the 31-year-old exploded for 30 points on 12-for-19 shooting and 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. Incredibly, 20 of those 30 points came within a six-minute stretch in the first quarter. He even drained a step-back three at the buzzer to cap off his brilliant start to the night.
Stephenson scored 22 points combined in his first eight appearances with the Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks this year. He nearly topped that in one quarter on Wednesday.
The Pacers need to give their fans something to cheer about
Stephenson’s last home game in Indiana before Wednesday came all the way back in 2018. Since then, he’s played one season with the Los Angeles Lakers and spent time with the Liaoning Flying Leopards in the Chinese Basketball Association and the Grand Rapids Gold in the NBA G League. The fiery guard finally returned home this week and looked like his old self again. And the crowd couldn’t get enough.
“As soon as I put that jersey on, I feel like I just get my powers,” Stephenson said after the game. “I don’t know what it is. Every time I put that jersey on, man, I just feel comfortable. And when you playing in front of people that’s happy for you to play and telling you and egging you on, it makes the game more easier.”
The Pacers most likely aren’t making the playoffs this year, so why keep Stephenson around for the rest of the season and give the fans something to cheer about?