Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving stated he can finally see “light at the end of the tunnel” after playing the best game of his truncated season in Saturday’s surprising 126-123 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Irving scored a season-high 38 points to lead his undermanned team down the stretch versus the defending NBA champions. Afterward, he acknowledged the possibility of New York City ending the vaccination mandate that has kept him off Brooklyn’s Barclays Center floor all season, saying he is looking forward to “turning the page.”
“I’m glad that things are kind of settling down and there’s light at the end of the tunnel here,” Irving said. “Hopefully, I can get back on that home floor playing in the Barclays and now we can finally have that conversation that you’ve been dying to have just about turning the page and moving forward beyond this.
“But like I said, I’m not the only one. I feel for everybody that’s either in my boat or a similar boat or have dealt with some type of trauma from this. And just wishing everybody well-wishes, always.”
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Irving’s comments are his first since New York City Mayor Eric Adams told reporters earlier in the week that he “can’t wait to get it done” while discussing phasing out vaccination restrictions like other cities across the country.
“I’m following it as much as you guys are,” Irving said. “So just remaining patient and just seeing where things end up in this next week or so, next two weeks, I’m not too sure, but I know as much as you do. And I want to say this — is that I’m very appreciative of all those that are pushing behind the scenes to make our world a better place.
“And with everything calming down with the COVID cases, the most important thing for me was just making sure everyone’s OK. I’ve been on record saying this that it’s not about me, that I don’t want to feel like it’s all on me, but the circumstances this year have not been ideal.”
Irving also stated he appreciated NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s recent comments on ESPN’s Get Up, where Silver defended Irving while noting that the mandate “doesn’t quite make sense to me,” given that unvaccinated players from opposing teams could still play in New York City.
“I know his job is not easy,” Irving said. “Standing in the fire, sometimes, on behalf of our league. So my respect level went to a whole new one for him, and I’m just grateful that he did that, and he really took one for the team. And I’m grateful for that. But like I said, we want to set a great example for the world in what we’re doing, and we try to stand for what’s right and respect everyone else’s decisions and their personal beliefs.”
On top of Irving’s status, what makes the Nets so hopeful with just 21 regular-season games left to play is that star forward Kevin Durant is expected to return this week from a sprained left MCL after missing a month and a half. New addition Ben Simmons also is expected to be available in the near future as he ramps up his conditioning after waiting to be traded from the Philadelphia 76ers, although Nets coach Steve Nash stated Saturday that Simmons was dealing with “a little soreness in his back.”
For Irving, he said the victory in Milwaukee was even more special given that he injured his right ankle in Game 4 of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals versus the Bucks, prematurely ending his season.
“It was definitely emotional for me to prepare for this game,” Irving said.
“Just because — I haven’t been back in this building since then. I try my best not to wear my emotions on my face or on my shoulders, but sometimes, they can get the best of me. But it definitely felt like there was a weight lifted just being back here, being healthy, getting a win and knowing that there’s a possibility we could see them down the line again … there was nothing personal about this game, just about the team.”
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