Kyrie Irving wants all the smoke.
Irving helped power the Nets through a wild ride in their 119-118 victory against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on Wednesday. Irving delivered bucket after bucket, scoring 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field and dished seven assists on the night. The road warrior scored in bunches, including 14 of the Nets’ first 24 points and 10 of the team’s final 17 points of the second quarter.
The Nets survived not one, but two Wizards’ shot attempts in the game’s final possession thanks to Irving, who stood firm and said he embraces the pressure to score — which now falls on his shoulders with Kevin Durant (left MCL sprain) out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.
“I like the pressure. I love pressure. I think it brings out the best in me,” said Irving, adding that his intensity under pressure is contagious among his teammates. “Just trying to demand a responsibility from all of us, from myself first, but from all of us. This isn’t gonna be perfect. It’s not gonna ever look perfect.
“This is just what we have, and we can’t replace anybody that’s out, but what we can do is fill up the stat sheet with the little things that may show up, the things that may not show up, and we’ll see where we are at the end o the game when we leave it all out there.”
Irving’s second-quarter stretch featured a slew of heavily-contested shots that still found their way into the bottom of the basket. He scored on three different Wizards in a five-minute stretch: twice against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope; a turnaround fadeaway shot over ex-Net Spencer Dinwiddie before he froze Kyle Kuzma with a crossover-hesitation; then drove toward the foul line for a fading pull-up jump shot.
This is the luxury the Nets have on the road. The unvaccinated Irving is ineligible to play at Barclays Center due to the City’s vaccine mandate. So with Durant out it’s just James Harden and the supporting cast when the Nets play at home. Harden shot just 7-of-21 from the field for 18 points and missed all five of his three-point attempts on Wednesday, but Irving’s firepower boosted the Nets’ to victory.
“What a pleasure to have him and coach him on our team for the road games,” Steve Nash said. “He’s obviously such an electric player, so much talent, to add him to our team makes us better.”
The Nets head coach noted that with Durant out, the Nets need to continue developing their game plan and grow more consistent in executing down the stretch. He then said that adding Irving to the mix does not throw off the team’s chemistry at all.
“There’s gotta be a willingness for all of us to try to compromise, cohesion, being able to run into actions, call actions on the fly down the stretch, and that will I think come with time,” he continued. “But Kyrie is not an inhibitor to that. He’s been a great add, and obviously having him on the road has been a big plus for us. Tonight he was brilliant and a big part of why we won.”
Irving’s brilliance alone, however, couldn’t carry the Nets to victory. They held a 16-point lead that reduced to one amid the Wizards’ ferocious fourth quarter run.
LaMarcus Aldridge was the Nets’ third star on Wednesday and torched the Wizards for 27 points off the bench. The Nets also got five big threes from Patty Mills, and impressive performances from rookies Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards.
Ye,t there the Wizards were on the game’s final possession with not one, but two shots to win at the buzzer. Maybe the Wizards needed to realize they were only down one, so there was no need to hoist two questionable threes. But they did, and each shot bounced off a different part of the rim, solidifying the Nets’ road win, even if it wasn’t pretty.
On a night that included an assist from assistant coach David Vanterpool — who tipped a pass from Dinwiddie unbeknownst to a referee, who let the Nets advance the ball after Vanterpool’s deflection — the Nets did just enough to secure a win on the road.
“You’re happy when [the Wizards’ missed game-winners] bounce off the rim, but you’re holding your breath when they’re up in the air,” Nash said . It was a scrambling, sloppy finish to a game and we found a way. We made just enough plays.”
And as long as Irving is comfortable performing under pressure, “just enough” can be enough to carry this team while their star recovers from injury.