NBA: Irving makes near-perfect return to down Hawks

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving bringing the ball down the Barclays Centre court against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. He played 20 minutes on his return from injury and finished with a game-high 21 points.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving bringing the ball down the Barclays Centre court against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. He played 20 minutes on his return from injury and finished with a game-high 21 points.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK • Kyrie Irving had not played in two months and all he did in his return was make 10 of 11 shots for the best shooting night of his National Basketball Association career.

He knows it will not always be that easy.

"I mean, I'm not going to shoot 10 for 11," the All-Star guard said with a laugh. "I hope I can shoot 10 for 11 every night."

The Brooklyn Nets will take whatever they can get after seeing how much a healthy Irving means to them.

He scored a game-high 21 points in 20 minutes in his return from an injured right shoulder, leading the hosts to a 108-86 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

Irving made a career-best 90.9 per cent of his shots after missing 26 games with an impingement.

The shoulder, however, looked fine and his handle looked as good as ever while he dribbled his way around a hopeless Atlanta defence.

Energised by his unexpected return - just a week ago, it seemed like he would still be out for some time - the Nets won their second straight after dropping seven in a row, improving to 18-20.

"It's not really a surprise for me," Irving said of his performance. "I put in the work and when I do that I feel like the results will come."

On the return of his star player, coach Kenny Atkinson said: "We had a certain confidence about us tonight that we were missing during that streak. So great, great timing having him back."

Cam Reddish scored a team-high 20 points for the Hawks, who were missing the injured Trae Young, and lost their fourth straight to remain bottom of the league at 8-32.

Brooklyn made it such an easy night that their fans did not need to worry about the scoreboard as they roared for Vince Carter's two three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

The 42-year-old forward, who is retiring at the end of the season, finished with eight points in his final road appearance against his former team.

"Obviously, to come back here, and some of the other stops I've played for, and just kind of to receive a standing O (ovation) for one last time is just great," Carter, who spent 41/2 seasons with the franchise when they were based in New Jersey, said.

Calling him an inspiration, Irving, 27, added: "It was incredible as a kid to watch. I don't want to take it for granted how much he's given up his life to sacrifice his time with his family and friends to be playing basketball for this long."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2020, with the headline 'Irving makes near-perfect return to down Hawks'. Print Edition | Subscribe