Kyrie scores 50 in debut, but Nets fall in OT
Taking the microphone during introductions to address the home crowd for the first time as a member of the Nets in the season opener Wednesday night at Barclays Center, Kyrie Irving said he was "home" and got a little choked up for a moment at the thought. But the rest of the evening was nothing short of a brilliant star turn for Irving.
He scored 50 points, brought the Nets from 18 points behind in the second quarter to lead by eight in the fourth period and scored nine straight points down the stretch as the Nets took a three-point lead in regulation, only to see Karl-Anthony Towns hit a three to tie the game with 1:06 left and send it to overtime.
The only thing Irving didn't do was pull a victory out of the fire, missing his final shot just before the buzzer ended a heart-palpitating 127-126 loss to the Timberwolves.
Irving's 17-of-33 shooting included a 7-of-14 effort from three-point range, and he added eight rebounds and seven assists. The Nets also got 20 points from Caris LeVert and 15 from Taurean Prince but shot a miserable 57.7 percent at the foul line (15 of 26). Towns topped the T-Wolves with 36 points and 14 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 21 points, including the final four.
Recalling his first game as rookie head coach of the Nets three years ago, Kenny Atkinson laughed and said, "That was called scared to death. There's a difference."
The circumstances are dramatically different now. Atkinson has gone from coaching the team with the NBA's worst record in 2016-17 to coaching a playoff team that signed top-tier free agents Irving and Kevin Durant and added a host of veteran role players to a young core. Durant may not play this season while rehabbing from Achilles tendon surgery, but Atkinson knows the expectations are the greatest he has faced in his fourth season.
"I thought I'd feel a little more nervous," he said before opening against the Timberwolves. "I'm more comfortable in my own skin...I'm excited. We added some really good players. I'm more curious than anything. Like, who are the Nets going to be? Questionmark. Questionmark. I can't tell you right now. I feel good about it. That's my gut. I know we're going to be good, but to be determined."
Atkinson said before the game it will take time for the Nets to develop chemistry and an identity as a team, but he's anxious to see how the process plays out. "The most important expectations are internal expectations," Atkinson said. "There's more of a spotlight on us. But it's exciting. What a great challenge we've got in front of us."
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If there was one thing that became evident early, it's that the four-year deal worth $141 million the Nets invested in Irving looks well worth it. He scored 25 first-half points on 9-of-15 shooting. The problem was the rest of the Nets failed to score along with him. When Irving sat down after playing nine minutes in the first quarter, the Nets trailed by one. When he returned with eight minutes left in the first half, they trailed by 18 points after being outscored 26-9.
They managed to cut the difference to 68-56 at halftime but still allowed the Timberwolves to shoot 50 percent in the first half, including a 9-of-19 effort from three-point range. The Nets' bench, a strength last season and expected to be one of the NBA's best units this season, was outscored, 22-12, in the first half.
Irving ignited a 15-2 run to open the third period and fed Joe Harris for a three-pointer that gave the Nets a 71-79 lead with 8:19 left in the quarter. Taurean Prince rebounded from a scoreless first half to score 15 points in the period, which ended with the Nets in front, 93-88.
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CLOSE NEW YORK - Kyrie Irving was into his bag of tricks early in Brooklyn's season opener against Minnesota. He had 12 points in the first quarter, 13 in the second, five in the third,