Kyrie Irving doesn’t lack confidence.
This is its defining characteristic. It’s also the reason why, after four straight losses, the Brooklyn Nets stopped sliding in the Eastern Conference standings in the absence of Kevin Durant.
It was Irving who repeatedly publicly set the tone for the rest of the band after Durant’s right MCL sprained on January 8. Irving strongly opposed the idea that the Nets would repeat last year’s spin without Durant when they lost 11 games. back-to-back in January and February, with Duran out of action with a left MCL sprain.
What would be so different this time?
“Just stay confident,” Irving said after a disappointing loss to the Phoenix Suns last week. “That’s all.”
After the Nets’ 120-116 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, which saw Brooklyn trail by a full 17 points, Irving’s confidence shone brightly.
“I told you guys that I put a lot of pressure to be first choice, second choice, or main,” Irving said. “And it’s just a message to everyone at home, option one, option two, option three, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter who has the ball as long as they are aggressive and that’s the best shot for our team.”
Irving, who comes into play Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 pm EDT on Sportzshala), with 116 points, 25 rebounds, 22 assists and 8 steals over the past three games, is in first place, which was taken by Durant. , even if he downplays the nickname.
But Irving’s teammates know the only way for the Nets to survive in Durant’s absence is to continue to dominate games.
“He’s special,” Nets swingman Royce O’Neal said after seeing Irving drop 48 points in a 117-106 win over the Utah Jazz on Friday. “He does it night and night. He leads us. We have his back, we support him.
As Irving learns to be comfortable again at the top of the Nets food chain, the trust Irving builds with the rest of the group comes into play. Irving’s ability to get the ball right and his confidence — both in himself and in the rest of the group — highlight the biggest misconception fans and those outside the Nets locker room have about the seven-time All-Star. After all the controversy and chaos he’s been through in the organization over the last couple of seasons, his teammates still love him. But more importantly, they trust him.
Irving played 29 games last season due to his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which kept him out of home for most of the season due to New York City’s vaccination mandate. In the 2020/21 season, he was voluntarily absent from the team for 11 days, missing seven games during this time. He was then suspended for eight games this season for posting on social media promoting a book and film with anti-Semitic themes. Despite all this, the Nets players are confident that Irving will be there when they need it.
That mood is highlighted by an exciting reunion with James Harden heading into the Sixers game. Harden moved to the Nets from the Houston Rockets two seasons ago believing he could win the title with Irving and Durant. He left for Philadelphia a little over a year later, in part because he couldn’t believe Irving would be lying on the floor.
After the deal, Harden admitted that one of the reasons he pushed for the exit was the uncertainty surrounding Irving’s status. Around the same time a year ago, he left the band. Durant was injured, Irving was in and out of the squad, and Harden seemed to play like he didn’t want to be there anymore.
Over the past couple of weeks, both Irving and Nets center Nick Claxton have launched less-veiled strikes against Harden without naming him specifically, saying they think the team is better prepared for Durant’s absence than last year’s group, which collapsed leading. before the trading deadline in February.
“Last year… the environment was pretty toxic,” Claxton said after losing to the San Antonio Spurs on January 17. “We didn’t know at the time if everyone wanted to be here. This year, there is no separation between everyone who is there.”
The appearance of Harden against his old pieces on the team to evoke lingering feelings about what might have been if the talented trio had stayed together, but for his part, Irving looks and sounds like a man who has gone.
Irving suggested another subtle difference in how he feels about this trip. After weeks of wearing sunglasses on the catwalk in press conferences following his suspension, Irving took off his glasses after a win over the Jazz on Friday and again after a win over the Warriors on Sunday. When asked on Sunday how he felt after a difficult start to the season, he gave a glimpse of his opinion.
“I think a lot of the things that happened are left behind,” Irving said. “I haven’t forgotten about them, but it’s something I don’t really focus on because the team is the most important thing here and I just do my best to be the best mentally, physically and emotionally. So I feel that we are the past, as an organization, as a team, I am individually, mentally stronger.”