Kyrie Irving has always been one of the NBA’s most unstoppable isolation players, a one-on-one force, and Tuesday night he was the leading scorer in the Nets’ season-opening rout of the Warriors.
The fact Irving says he has outgrown his hero-ball days should give the Nets a sense of just how good this season can be.
“It’s been a long journey to get here and to be able to master this craft and to learn that it’s not just about ‘hero’ basketball. It’s about how great the team is,” Irving said after the Nets’ 125-99 victory at Barclays Center. “I got caught up in that in my career a few times, just trying to play ‘hero’ basketball, where the team success is really going to dictate how great you are as an individual and how great you play a role.
“At this moment, I’m enjoying that, and I’m embracing it, not really doing too much talking. It’s just about the actions. Let’s go out there and throw the ball in the air, and see who’s the best of the best. I’m here to prove that every night with a great team alongside. It gives me confidence. We look forward to that challenge of just letting our game do the talking and let everybody else talk externally.”
Irving poured in a game-high 26 points in 25:18, shooting 10-for-16 from the floor and 4-for-7 from 3-point range. He outplayed the Warriors’ Stephen Curry (20 points, but 7-for-21 from the field) and played tough defense, first on the floor for several loose balls.
It wasn’t so much hero ball, as it was winning ball. Caris LeVert praised Irving for taking on a mentoring role so far in their time together.
“It’s just the right time, right situation, right environment,” Irving said. “As a young player, you think that scoring a bunch of points, doing a bunch of things, getting a bunch of accolades are great. I definitely was going after those things, and now, I really don’t care for any of those individual accolades or goals. It doesn’t bother me.”
“I’m validated culturally, that’s all that matters. I don’t need all-NBA, I don’t need the MVP. I just want the championship with a great team that I can look back in history and say ‘We did it our way, and we had fun doing it.’ I’m in Year 10. All I want to do is enjoy every single day playing basketball and coming in to work.”
Nets coach Steve Nash’s rotations are becoming a little clearer.
LeVert was on the ball on the second unit, and freed up to score 20 points, grab nine rebounds and hand out five assists. Jeff Green seems to have carved out a niche, beginning the second quarter as a power forward — backing up Kevin Durant — but then subbing out quickly only to return as a small-ball stretch five and play alongside the starters to close the half.
The Nets re-signed point guard Chris Chiozza to a two-way deal, and waived guard Jeremiah Martin. The roster now sits at 17, including 15 standard deals, with Chiozza and rookie second-round pick Reggie Perry the two-ways.