Lance Stephenson threatened to spoil Kyrie Irving's NBA return on Wednesday.
But the Brooklyn Nets, armed with their Big 3, were too much for the Indiana Pacers as they rallied from a 19-point third-quarter deficit for a 129-121 win. Irving shook off a slow start in his first game of the season and scored 22 points, including some key baskets down the stretch.
After the game, Irving found his dad to give him his jersey to celebrate his first NBA game since June 10.
Kyrie shared a moment with his dad following his first game back this season 🏀pic.twitter.com/5GNftKmhgG
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 6, 2022
Irving looked rusty early, missing a midrange jumper on the first shot of the game en route to a scoreless first quarter. Meanwhile, Stephenson, playing his third game back with the Pacers on a 10-day contract, erupted for 20 points as the Pacers opened a 37-32 first-quarter lead.
Irving settles down, Nets rally
But Irving found his rhythm when he returned to the court in the second quarter, starting with a pull-up jumper in the lane.
— NBA (@NBA) January 6, 2022
He then flashed his handles and his scoring skills while taking a defensive rebound full court for a layup in traffic.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 6, 2022
Irving hit several pull-up jumpers down the stretch as Brooklyn surged ahead. He finished 9-of-17 from the field to go with four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 39 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while James Harden added 18 points and six assists. Stephenson led the Pacers with 30 points along with five assists.
How much of Nets' Big 3 will we see?
It was a rare appearance from the Nets with all three of their All-Stars playing in the same game. According to YES Network, the Nets got 202 total regular-season minutes and 132 minutes in the playoffs with Durant, Irving and Harden on the court at the same time last season. They were 6-2 in the regular season and 5-1 in the playoffs in those games. They're now 1-0 with their Big 3 this season after Irving's Wednesday return.
Irving addresses COVID-19 vaccine stance
Irving hadn't played previously because of a New York City mandate requiring players to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to access Barclay's Center. The Nets recently decided to allow Irving to play in road games, which he will presumably do moving forward.
They return home for a game against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Friday that Irving will miss. New York's mandate remains in place. Because Canada doesn't welcome unvaccinated athletes across the border, he'll presumably also miss road games against the Toronto Raptors, a potential first-round playoff opponent for the Nets.
Irving addressed his vaccine stance when speaking with reporters postgame.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Irving said. "Like I said earlier in the season, it’s not an ideal situation. I’m always praying that things get figured out and we’re able to come to some collective agreement, whether it be with the league or just things that's going on that can help kind of ease what we’re all dealing with, with COVID and the vaccine.
"I think everybody is feeling it. So I don’t want to make it simply about me and simply about someone lessening the rules for me. I know what the consequences were. I still know what they are. Right now I’m just going to take it one day at a time, like I said, and enjoy this time that I get to play with my guys. However it looks later in the season, then we’ll address it then.”