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Kyrie Irving drops 40 as Nets defeat Celtics to kick off second half schedule, 121-109

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Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

With 1,400 fans serenading him with MVP chants, it was The Kyrie Irving Show under the Barclays Center lights Thursday as the Nets opened the second half of the regular season hearing MVP chants in the process.

Irving, who scored 40 points to go with three assists and eight rebounds in 40 minutes, led the Nets to an electric win over his former team, the Celtics, 121-109. With the win, Brooklyn has won 11 of their last 12 games to improve to 25-13 on the season.

“It felt good to be able to get a few days of rest sort of say. (I’m) really blessed to be able to play on that platform with so many great players then come into season, again, it is what it is. We just wanted to come out with maximum effort and going against the Celtics, we will see them down the line later on in the season more,” Irving said. “Probably in the playoffs as well, who knows. We just wanted a master effort tonight and have fun out there. That really what we wanted to do and just enjoy competing at a high level.”

When asked whether this game against his former team meant a little more to him, Irving lets the “casual NBA fans” do the speculation behind anything revenge like against his former team.

“I know a lot of people in the league well. That’s my former team obviously and I let the casual NBA fans talk about what it can mean in terms of a special night,” Irving said. “I’m just waiting for the main stage going on and playing in front of millions of people. Games like this in the middle of the season where you go against guys that you have known well, it’s always a blessing.

Irving added how he wants his former teammates to do well and their relationships stretch further off the court than on the hardwood.

“I’m always happy for those guys and I want to see them do well. When we are playing against each other, we are just going to leave it out there on the floor. That is where it stands. We have that respect but of course, our relationships go way further off the floor.”

While Irving was boffo box office, his backcourt star, James Harden, followed his script, producing a near triple-double of 22 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 38 minutes of play. He was full of praise for Irving post-game.

“He’s a different breed,” Harden said of Irving. “He has that killer mentality in a sense of, no matter who we play or where we’re playing, he is going to go out there and try to destroy the opponent and that’s something that you’d want on your team at all times. That mentality is what sets him apart from a lot of guys in this league.”

And their teammates were saying good things about the two of them.

“James is one of the best passers I’ve ever played with, and probably will ever play with,” said Landry Shamet. “He makes the game so easy. He knows the game. He knows where everyone will be.”

As a team, Brooklyn finished the win shooting 47.7 percent overall and 45.2 percent from deep. The Nets had five of their nine players who saw minutes finish in double-figures.

The All-Star Break rust was evident as the Nets had a sluggish start, shooting 25 percent from the field while recording four turnovers in the first five minutes of play, leaving Steve Nash to call an early timeout with 7:24 remaining.

As Irving said post-game, “Anytime you put something down, whether it be writing, whether it be art, when you put it down for a few days and you come back, you’re going to be a little rusty.”

After the sloppy start, Brooklyn began to find a rhythm behind Landry Shamet, who finished with 18 points on a season-high 6-of-9 from deep in 31 minutes. The 23-year-old hit three big threes off the bench keeping the Nets afloat in the first.

Boston was the aggressor in the first quarter, using their size and physicality to put the Nets over the foul limit with 1:06 remaining but Brooklyn ended the opening period only down 29-23 after trailing by 11 midway through the quarter.

“It was sloppy in stretches. You can tell we weren’t as sharp as we liked but I’m not at fault to the players for that. They need their break. This was an easy game to lose,” Nash said. “We played a really good team that won four in a row and as healthy as they have been. We weathered a couple of storms up. The first quarter wasn’t great. They had a 9-0 run to start the second half but after that, we played great basketball overall. I’m proud of the guys but some rust and their concentration levels were excellent to get the game in hand.”

Brooklyn shook off the rust in the second, outscoring Boston 33-26 heading into halftime with a 56-55 lead, due to their improved ball movement. While the Celtics scored 14 points off Brooklyn’s 11 first-half turnovers, the Nets offense was flowing in the final three minutes of the half. Brooklyn ending the half on a 13-4 run. Irving had 18 points, five rebounds, and two assists in the half against his former team followed by Harden with 11 points in 18 minutes.

While the Nets backcourt duo highlighted the stat sheet, Shamet was a huge x-factor as he piled up 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting from three in 15 minutes off the bench. As a team, Brooklyn shot 46.5 percent overall and 45.0 percent from deep in the half.

Brooklyn opened the second half missing their first five shots while Boston went on a 9-0 run. Irving continued to get whatever shot he wanted against his former team, providing a must-needed offensive energizer for the Nets, scoring 14 points in the period. While the offense was a standstill for both teams, Brookyn’s defense was shaky throughout but the Nets headed into the final 12 with an 88-86 lead.

Everything was bouncing Brooklyn’s way to start the fourth as the Nets opened the final 12 minutes with a 14-2 run. Boston responded with a 9-0 run, which was quickly put out by a Shamet’s season-high sixth three with 6:57 remaining. Then, at the end, it was all Kyrie, scoring eight points in the Nets final 13-3 run, knocking down two 3-pointers and hitting two crucial free throws.

To top things off, as the game wound down, Irving let Boston know he was in charge...

Boston’s Big Two had very different games. Jayson Tatum finished with 31 points on 13-of-22 shooting, including 3-of-7 from deep while Jaylen Brown shot poorly, hitting only 5-of-23, including 3-of-12 from deep. Kemba Walker, who Celtics fans thought would replace Irving at the point, had 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. One troubling stat was Daniel Theis’ 17-and-8 game. Too often, he was able to muscle his way inside.

The game came down to the final minutes but the Nets closed out the game on a 13-3 run to secure the win.

Film time!

The Film Room

Kyrie Irving was electric, hitting pretty fadeaway jumpers from that 10-foot range that most guys struggle to score from while balancing that in-between scoring with some All-Star Game-deep threes.

When he’s going like this, with that handle looking slippery as melting winter snow and the scoring game looking downright refreshed, you have to be ON TOP of things as a defense.

Below is an example of what NOT to do. The Boston Celtics attempt to “hard hedge” this Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll by bringing Daniel Theis up to the level of the screen (versus, say, dropping him in the paint). Now, with Theis playing high, it’s imperative that Walker goes under Jordan’s screen. Why? Well, you’ll see below. By going over the screen, he hangs Theis out to dry that extra second by taking the longer route around Jordan’s screen (it’d be quicker to just go under the screen). The whole point of running a hard hedge is that bringing the big to the level of the screen gives the ball-handler’s defender extra help should he get screened; you’re afforded an “under,” essentially, if you’re Kemba Walker, as Kyrie can’t pull-up for three with Theis standing right there. Going over a) takes away that advantage, but b) just puts the big man on an island with no paint protection.

Can’t give a guy this offensively talented those freebies!

Blake Griffin fashion statement

Blake Griffin didn’t play vs. Boston but he starred on the bench with his Moncler mohair sweater or as Steve Nash called it, harkening back to his British roots, a “lovely jumper.”

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

If you like what you see, you can plunk down $800 and it’ll be yours. Your size might be smaller, of course.

Nash even had to chime in on Griffin’s sweater after the win.

“As my nan from London would have said ‘he had a lovely jumper on’ so that’s British for sweater. I thought he came with a dope sweater,” Nash said.

Kyrie Irving uses his platform for more than basketball

A year ago to the day, the NBA season was suspended due to the novel coronavirus. A lot has transpired since that time. A global shutdown in response to the pandemic. The Black Lives Matter protests across the country, fueled by jarring racial injustices from law enforcement. An election, and a riot through the doors of the Capitol.

It’s been an emotional, stressful 365 days. So many lives have been lost, with others being significantly altered. Basketball, though it means nothing really in the grand scheme of things, has acted as a form of distraction for many. A necessary escape, if you will, from reality.

Post-game, Kyrie Irving shared his thoughts on the last year, while adding context to the power of his platform.

“If I can bring some healing, bring some excitement into your life by going out there and putting a ball in the hoop for three hours, two hours, then I’m grateful to be able to do that,” said Irving post-game.

For the visual learners, here’s a clip of those comments.

Good on you, Kyrie.

Steve Nash supports Nets players if they choose to play in Tokyo Olympics

USA Basketball announced the 57 finalists for the U.S. men’s Olympic team - six of whom are Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, DeAndre Jordan, Joe Harris and Blake Griffin. The six finalists for Brooklyn mark the most of any NBA team.

Prior to the game, Steve Nash, who helped light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, said he supports any of his players who want to represent their country in the Tokyo Olympics, which begins July 23 - rescheduled from the summer of 2020.

The Nets coach added how there will always be risks when his players play basketball. Despite the possible injury risk, the coach said he wouldn’t want to take that opportunity away from them.

“If the players want to play and represent their country then I think it’s great. There is a risk to get injured anytime you play basketball. If they aren’t playing in the Olympics then hopefully in a gym somewhere staying sharp and working on their game,” Nash said. “We take risks all the time as players and if our guys have the dream, a will to play in the Olympics and are fortunate enough to be on the squad, I wouldn’t want to take that away from them.”

As for Durant, Irving and Jordan, the three are no strangers to representing their county on the world’s biggest stage. Harden and Durant won gold in 2012 in London and Durant, Irving and Jordan won gold at the Rio Olympics.

Basketball - Olympics: Day 16 Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Irving was also named a WorldCup MVP in 2014 as a member of Team USA. Along with his MVP, the Nets superstar was named the 2014 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year. As for Harden, he was also a member of 2014 World Cup team with Irving.

Harris made his national team debut at the 2019 World Cup. Griffin was originally named to the 2012 Olympic team but withdrew due to a knee injury.

No news on roster openings

After signing Blake Griffin, the Nets still have two roster openings. Just before the Break, the Nets didn’t extend the 10-day contracts of Tyler Cook, Andre Roberson and Iman Shumpert. The Nets can still bring two of those three back or sign other players or simply leave the spots open to give them more flexibility in the lead-up to the trade deadline which is two weeks from Thursday.

“I’d have to pass that question off to Sean [Marks, GM],” Nash said post-game. “I think as a coaching staff we’re quite happy with where we are. But I couldn’t answer that. I think that’s more a question for the front office.”

One move the Nets didn’t make was dumping Chris Chiozza. March 7 was the deadline for guaranteeing two-ways for the rest of the season. Chiozza and the Nets other two-way Reggie Perry may get a raise under the new two-way rules approved Thursday. If a two-way is active, meaning dressed for the game, for more than 50 games, they’ll automatically go from the $449,000 salary for two-ways to the minimum, which is twice that number. Two-ways are also now eligible for the post-season.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will return to action when the team hosts the Detroit Pistons Saturday, March 13. The game is set to tip at 7:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out CelticsBlog - our sister site covering the Boston Celtics for SB Nation.