TORONTO – Kyrie Irving floored the first winner of his NBA career in a thrilling 119-116 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.
Irving brushed off Raptors guard Fred VanVleet as the final seconds ticked down, moved behind the three-point line and nailed the game-winning shot to give the Nets their fifth straight win and ninth in the last 10 games.
The play was originally designed for Nets star forward Kevin Durant, but Durant told Nets coach Jacque Vaughn to switch it to Irving as the team was coming out of its final timeout.
“He was already cooking, so I didn’t want to get in his way,” Durant said after the game. “We kept finding him late in the game. He made some big shots, and I was like, ‘Jacque, I think Ky should take this one.'”
Durant said he was confident Irving could make a good shot “especially” since he was being defended by VanVleet.
“I’m not saying he’s a bad defender, but they’re the same size,” Durant said. “He didn’t have a 6-9 [Scottie] Barnes or a 6-5 guy on him that had size, so I felt like he could get whatever he wanted in there, and I also felt like they weren’t going to run and double him on top of the key either because obviously he could just beat that. . So they let him play one-on-one and it was a special, special shot.”
Irving’s shot silenced the Toronto crowd and sparked a joyous on-court celebration for a Brooklyn group that appears to have found its rhythm after a difficult first month and a half of the season. Irving tossed a pair of finger guns and holstered them after dunking the winner, as his teammates excitedly jumped around him in a circle.
Despite all the great shots Irving has hit in his career, including the memorable 3-pointer that helped seal Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving noted that this was the first time he had actually scored. one shot while the clock expired.
“It just comes with the confidence that we’re building here,” Irving said. “Jacque had a play call that we were about to run, and me and K had a dialogue and decided to run the play for me. Good matchup against Fred. We just beat him that time. Who would have thought he would have come to Toronto and would I have hit my first career-winning horn? So pray for more to come, but I’m glad I got this win.”
Irving, who finished with a team-high 32 points, made several crucial plays down the stretch, including a terrific pass to Yuta Watanabe for a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left in regulation that gave the Nets a momentary 3-point lead. 116-114.
Ironing out his composure at the end of close games is a product of a desire to be the best player he can be.
“I’m not really comfortable,” Irving said. “I just want to be great in those situations. And I’ve missed more than I’ve succeeded. So you can say what you want about me not making shots in the past, but the one time you get up and do it.” , those are the ones you want to remember… Momentary accolades are great, but we’re still trying to come together for what we’re going to see in the future.”
Irving’s teammates and coaches say they can see, and feed off, Irving’s ability to rise to the occasion late in games.
“He definitely has the inner peace and balance that you have to have in that situation, not to panic,” Vaughn said. “And he has an innate ability to get into place. He wanted to get up, he created space, with balance, and for a guy his size, to be able to do that, against bigger, smaller, nicer guys.” innate.”
Durant noted that the Nets’ recent hot game has helped the group develop the kind of identity it’s been looking for since the season began. He described that identity as “versatile on the defensive end” and with a “let’s hang our hat” defensive presence.
Irving offered another reminder Friday night of just how gifted he is on the offensive end and how much his ability on the ball can lift those around him.
Said Watanabe: “I felt like as soon as he made the shot, I knew he was going to go in.”