NBA: Simmons stars as Irving returns in Nets’ win over Grizzlies

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving catches an outlet pass in the third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov 20, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BROOKLYN – Kyrie Irving said “it was nothing like being out there” on his return from an eight-game suspension as he and a sensational Ben Simmons helped the Brooklyn Nets to a 127-115 National Basketball Association (NBA) victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.

Irving, who scored 14 points in 26 minutes at the Barclays Centre, was just glad to be back on court, though he admitted his match sharpness was just a tad off.

“Felt good, felt good. Just missed my teammates, missed the coaching staff,” he said.

“You saw me dribbling the ball out there, the ball was just miraculously just going on my hands, so there’s just some rust, and you know, just get back into NBA basketball.

“There’s no way I can create NBA basketball when I’m just sitting at home with my friends as much as I want to compete with them as much as I love it’s just nothing like being out there.”

Irving was suspended by the Nets after his social media post linking to a movie condemned as anti-semitic sparked a furore and now coach Jacque Vaughn believes the 30-year-old can finally put all the controversy behind him as both the 2016 NBA champion and the team can focus on basketball going forward.

“It was great to have him get some minutes out there and for us to get a win while he’s doing it,” said Vaughn.

“At the end of the day, now it’s about hoopin. I used that word. From this day on, that’s what we’re going to be about. Basketball is factual. You get the rebound, that’s a fact. You box out, that’s a fact. You make the shot, that’s a fact.

“So we’re going to make this thing factual. It’s about basketball and we’re going to live in that space.”

Kevin Durant, who led the Nets with 26 points as seven Nets players scored in double figures, echoed his coach’s views, saying: ‘’It’s always nice to just focus on the game.’‘

Another positive from the victory was the dazzling performance from Simmons, who, playing alongside Irving and Durant for just the seventh time, poured in a season-high 22 points on 11-for-13 shooting to go with eight rebounds and five assists in an aggressive display which he saw the three-time All-Star driving to the rim on several occasions and finishing in style.

The former Rookie of the Year seems to be coming alive for the team he joined in a trade in 2021 after his relationship with the Philadelphia 76ers, whom the Nets meet next, soured because of struggles with a back injury and mental health issues.

I’m just staying focused,” said the 26-year-old Simmons, who had his first 20-point game since the 2021 play-offs.

“I’m taking it day by day. That’s honestly what it is. I’ve got to take it day by day. Me personally, if I start reading everything that’s going on and getting psyched out, that’s not good for me. So, for me, I just want to stay focused, take it day by day, and I keep saying it, but that’s what it is for me. Just keep building on good days and staying locked in.”

Vaughn was pleased with Simmons’ aggression and the tempo he set for the team.

“Immediately you saw the force that he played with whether it was his pace and his attack of the rim, and it was a relentless attack towards the rim and really just spraying the basketball around,” he said.

“The pace that he created for us tonight, it will make it hard for people to guard us.”

However, one can expect Simmons to come under heavy scrutiny on Tuesday, when the Nets roll into Philadelphia.

When asked if the Australian was ready to face his former side, Simmons replied: “I’m ready to play,” before adding, “Something going on?” as the room broke into laughter.

“I know what’s coming. That’s part of the game. Philly fans, one thing about Philly fans is they are incredible. They are die-hard Philly and they are everything Philly, whatever it is. I respect that about the city. It’s a sports town.” 

The row surrounding Irving, who was suspended a week after his late October post for failing to offer an apology, came the same week that Vaughn took over after Steve Nash was sacked in the wake of the Nets’ 1-5 start to the season.

They have now improved to 8-9, while the Grizzlies have a 10-7 record. Dillon Brooks scored 31 points for the Grizzlies, who were without dynamic star Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson. AFP, REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.