It’s going to be a season of transition in Brooklyn, while the Nets wait for Kevin Durant’s shredded Achilles tendon to heal and for all their big free-agency wheeling and dealing to finally come together. For now, Nets fans will still enjoy the nightly thrill of watching one of the sport’s most entertaining pure scorers eat up just as much of their team’s offense as he wants. Wednesday night, in his season debut, Kyrie Irving put on an incredible show.
Aficionados will recognize a much earlier version of Kyrie in his performance against the Timberwolves. This was less the aloof cog of his two seasons in Boston or the stifled second-banana of the LeBron years, and more like the hellbent gunner of Kyrie’s early days, on those dreadful Cavaliers teams. Probably he’ll settle into a more equitable give-and-take with his Brooklyn teammates, most of whom are worlds better than anyone he played with from 2011 to 2013, but with the other half of Brooklyn’s superstar duo out for the foreseeable future, the Nets are fully Kyrie’s team. Wednesday night his version of bearing that burden meant going full James Harden: 50 points on 33 shots in 38 minutes, with a whopping 40.2 percent usage.
His exploits brought the Nets back from a 12-point first-half deficit, and his shot-making brilliance down the stretch gave them a three-point lead in the last 80 seconds of regulation.* This gorgeous sequence almost blew the roof off the arena:
Sure, his failed game-winner in overtime was a bit of a fiasco, but he’d been so outrageously hot to that point that when an impromptu somersault somehow ended with him holding the ball and squared to the basket, it looked very much like the Timberwolves were screwed. That’s a shot Kyrie makes in his sleep, and if anyone can do it off of a complex tumbling routine, he can.
A home loss to the Timberwolves is a disappointing way to open this optimistic era of Nets basketball, and an alpha scorer gobbling up 40 percent of all Nets possessions is a long way from what the team has done so well under Kenny Atkinson. But until Durant suits up, this is a holding year in Brooklyn, and there are far worse ways to pass the time than by cutting loose one of the world’s very best improvisers to just cook and cook and cook.