Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving says pressure 'brings out the best' in him amid Kevin Durant's absence

ByNick Friedell ESPN logo
Thursday, January 20, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving says he is embracing the pressure that comes with trying to carry the team's offense amid Kevin Durant's absence due to a left knee injury.

"I like the pressure," Irving said after scoring 30 points in 38 minutes during a 119-118 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. "I love pressure. It brings out the best in me personally. And then also I'm able to carry that energy with the team whether it be communicating with guys in short conversations on the floor or off the floor.

"Just trying to demand a responsibility from all of us, from myself first, but from all of us, that this isn't going to be perfect. It's not going to 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 and things that may not show up. We'll see where we are at the end of the game when we leave it all out there playing hard."

Durant injured his knee in Saturday's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although the Nets haven't announced an official timeline for his return, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that there is optimism within the organization that the star forward only will be sidelined 4-6 weeks.

Irving is unvaccinated against COVID-19, meaning he can't play in home games due to a mandate in New York City. After Irving was away from the team for almost three months, the Nets reversed course last month to allow him to participate in road games.

Wednesday marked the two-week anniversary of his return, and the star point guard said he is enjoying being back around the group and performing.

"It feels incredible," Irving said. "I don't take one day for granted. I thank God every day I get this opportunity, not only to play basketball, but just to be around great individuals, and we grow together just in this space and then when we leave here from this arena we are all away from our families, we're on the road, and we have a mission that we're all trying to be in front of mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally and just stay even-keeled.

"I know it's difficult at times, not only for just me, but for everyone else, just the monotony coming in every single day working on [our games], but this is what we signed up for when we were playing in fifth grade, fourth grade, this was the dream right here. Just getting on the road and trying to win some ballgames and play at a high level."

Nets coach Steve Nash never seemed concerned that Irving would try to take on too much offensive responsibility in Durant's absence. He called the point guard's play on Wednesday "brilliant."

"I think Ky's really trying to fit into the group and trying to get his rhythm back," Nash said prior to the game. "Obviously you see moments where he's outstanding and looks like he's never left and there's other moments where you're like, 'It's a brand-new guy, playing with a bunch of guys he hasn't played with,' so that takes time as well. I don't think he's putting too much pressure on himself. We want him to be free.

"We want him to have this period where he cannot overburden himself to have to score or to have to do too much, just to feel his way into it. He helps our team regardless of if he's trying to get 40 a night or he's just trying to fit in. He's just such a good player and such a compliment to our group."

Veteran center LaMarcus Aldridge summed up Irving's two week stretch in one word.

"Fun," he said. "[He] knows the game. Plays the game the right way. Gets me so many midrange shots where the [defender's] not even close to me. I played the most with him last year, I was there five games, and my five games were more with him than anyone. So I feel like our chemistry kind of came in those five games. I feel like this year we kind of picked up where we left off -- he makes plays where you're looking and you're just like, 'Man, you're glad he's on your team.' Tonight he had some spins and some hesitations and some floaters, I'm just like, 'Goddang." So it's been fun for me to have him back, just fun to watch him play."

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