Kyrie Irving, the Nets player who has not been vaccinated against COVID, returned to compete after being away from the League for the entire season. The 29-year-old guard formed in the starting five, contributed 22 points and 4 assists and his team won 121-129 on the Indiana court. His situation ignited the debate around the players who have not been vaccinated in a League devastated by the wave of infections. The NBA does not oblige them, but 97% of the players have been vaccinated. The New York health authorities prohibit entry into closed areas where many people congregate. That will prevent Irving from playing home games. The Nets decided in the first instance to remove him from team discipline because they believed that, by not getting vaccinated, Irving restricted his availability to be a full-time member of the team. But the leaders of the franchise changed their mind on December 18 due to casualties, many of them due to covid, and the overload of minutes that their best players, such as Kevin Durant and James Harden, had to assume.
The return of Kyrie Irving, who has not played a game since June, opens a new stage for the Nets, second in the Eastern Conference with 24 wins and 12 losses, only surpassed by the Chicago Bulls, with 25 wins. The American guard born in Melbourne (Australia) will only be able to play the 22 games that his team will play outside of his pavilion, the Barclays Center.
Irving played 32 minutes and helped his team overcome a 19-point deficit against the Pacers. The Nets, with 39 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists from Kevin Durant and 18 points from James Harden, snapped a three-game losing streak. Steve Nash, his coach, was satisfied with Irving’s work: “He looks like himself. It’s not a surprise”. Kevin Durant praised the confidence with which his teammate acted: “He has not been nervous. He has a poker face. He’s a quiet guy. Play with energy and passion ”. Irving summed up: “It has been special after eight months without competing and with so much uncertainty.”
Sabonis had 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Pacers, who have lost six straight. Lance Stephenson returned to play for Indiana after signing a 10-day contract. In his first home game, he scored 30 points.
The 20,000 fans who filled the American Airlines Center in Dallas enjoyed a very emotional moment. The Mavericks removed the jersey with the number 41 that German Dirk Nowitziki wore from 1998 to 2019. The ceremony took place after the game that the Mavericks beat Golden State 99-82. Doncic stood out, with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists, and Finney-Smith, with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Stephen Curry disappointed, who made only one of the nine triples he threw and finished with 14 points.
Stephen Curry, following the retirement of the jersey with the number 41, praised Nowitzki: “He is an icon. He did it his way, playing for the same franchise for 21 years. It meant everything to the city and to the team. It opened the doors for international players to believe they could have incredible NBA careers and give them confidence. “
Nowitzki was the leader of the team that won the title in 2011, the only one in Mavericks history. He was the MVP of the League in 2007 and of the finals in 2011, 14 times All Star and is the sixth highest scorer in history with 31,560 points. The German appreciated the support he received throughout his career. He especially cited his coaches Don Nelson, Avery Johnson and Rick Carlisle and the teammates he had throughout his career, notably Michael Finley and Steve Nash. He made a special mention of his mentor Holger Geschwindner, fundamental in his career, since he started playing as a teenager in Wurzburg, Germany.
Luka Doncic also dedicated a few words to Nowitzki: “It was a night that I will never forget. It has been very special to be able to see all this in the front row and after having beaten the Warriors, one of the best teams in the world at the moment ”.
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