On Wednesday night in Indiana, Kyrie Irving made his 2021-22 season debut for the Brooklyn Nets. It was just a few weeks ago that the chances of him returning to the team this year were looking slim, but in a stunning turn of events, Brooklyn decided to allow him to be a part-time player after all.
And so far, things are working out for Irving and the Nets. The 29-year-old knocked down big shots late in the game to propel Brooklyn to a 129-121 win. He was the Nets’ second-leading scorer behind Kevin Durant’s 39 points. Irving had 22 points (9-of-17 shooting), four assists, three rebounds, and three steals.
Brooklyn now faces one of its biggest tests of the season as the team prepares to host Milwaukee on Friday night. The Nets lost to the reigning NBA champs on opening night, and for the second time this season, Brooklyn will have to face the Bucks without Irving.
Because Irving is unvaccinated, he isn’t allowed to play in the Nets’ home games. That means that he won’t take the court again for Brooklyn until Jan. 10 in Portland. Following the win over the Pacers, the point guard was asked about his vaccination status by ESPN’s Nick Friedell.
Kyrie Irving addresses his vaccination status after Brooklyn Nets win.
Based on Irving’s response, it doesn’t seem like he’s changed his mind about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, instead hoping for policy changes/relaxed restrictions to work in his favor. He’s the first part-time player in the history of the league, so he and the Nets are navigating uncharted territory.
At the end of December, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reported that Brooklyn was hoping that Irving would be willing to get vaccinated within his first month back with the team. That’s not something that the Nets should be crossing their fingers for.
As of right now, Irving can only impact the games that Brooklyn plays on the road. The Nets are nearly halfway through the regular season and will only have one of their best players on the court for a maximum of 21 games the rest of the way.
After the game on Wednesday, he talked about how difficult it was for him to be away from the game and his team for an extended amount of time. Irving’s role with Brooklyn has been re-established, but because of the local New York City mandate, he’s still limited in what he can do.
However, for now, Irving’s still unvaccinated. It’s up to him to change that, but there’s hardly a guarantee that’ll happen.
Just like Nets fans had to wait for nearly three months to get to see Irving play this season, they’re going to have to continue to wait and see if he can perform in the Barclays Center. Missing him for half of the playoffs would really be brutal, but at this point the Nets might have to accept that as the reality.