NEW YORK • Kyrie Irving delivered the kind of superstar performance that Brooklyn Nets fans dreamed of when he announced he was signing with the team this summer.
Chants of "Kyrie's home" rang out around Barclays Centre during the Nets' National Basketball Association (NBA) season opener on Wednesday night. There were also cries of "MVP" and loud roars whenever he touched the ball on his way to 50 points.
But it was not enough to get the win. It was, quite literally, inches short of one.
Irving just missed a last-second jumper in a 127-126 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But he produced a valiant display, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists in addition to 50 points in his much-anticipated debut. It was not quite his career high - that would be 57 points - but he was the main reason the Nets climbed out of a double-digit deficit in the first half.
"Outstanding," was the verdict of Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "Great debut for him."
Irving came out firing right away, scoring 12 of the Nets' first 19 points.
But Minnesota had a powerhouse playmaker of their own, Karl-Anthony Towns, who matched Irving nearly blow for blow on the way to 36 points and 14 rebounds.
Towns sank four three-pointers in the first half, finishing with a career-high seven. He also grabbed nine first-half rebounds as the Timberwolves led by as many as 18 points.
But Irving kept the Nets from being run off the court early, relentlessly attacking the basket on his way to 25 first-half points.
Neither team could generate momentum down the stretch, and the game stayed close.
Jarrett Allen, the third-year Nets centre who got the starting nod over recent addition DeAndre Jordan, had a chance to win the game at the free-throw line with five seconds left in regulation. A career 73 per cent free-throw shooter, he missed both attempts.
The game went to overtime, when Irving scored seven of the Nets' 11 points, but his last-second shot rimmed out for a disappointing end to what was otherwise a stellar first night in a season of great expectations.
"It's a great starting point," he said. "Obviously, you wanted to come out and get a win in front of our home crowd, but we've got another chance on Friday."
The Nets had sported a new look with Irving now heading the offence after signing in the summer as a free agent, following a tumultuous season with the Boston Celtics.
His arrival in Brooklyn, not far from where he grew up in New Jersey, has stamped the Nets as title contenders this season.
"I'm eternally grateful to be here, be back home in front of you guys with my teammates," he said in an emotional opening address, choking up at one point.
Agonising overtime loss by a solitary point aside, Nets fans can be optimistic going forward, starting with today's game against the New York Knicks. Especially after a performance like the one Irving gave on Wednesday.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE