Kyrie Irving returned from a two-week absence to score a season-high 38 points and lead the Brooklyn Nets to a nail-biting 126-123 win over the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
Irving’s decision not to be vaccinated against Covid-19 means he cannot play home games because of New York’s vaccine mandate. But he showed no sign of rust against the Bucks.
“It’s the collection of guys we have in the locker room. Honestly, they keep me in shape,” Irving said. “They keep pushing me, keep me motivated.”
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had 29 points and 14 rebounds. But he missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime, and the Bucks saw victory slip away against a team that had only two wins in their last 10 games.
“Oh my goodness, he had a good chance to make that shot,” Irving said. “Anything could have happened. We were resilient tonight. we did all the little things to get a win.”
Nets star Kevin Durant and new acquisition Ben Simmons celebrated the victory from the bench.
Nets coach Steve Nash said he expects Durant to return from a sprained knee ligament in the coming week.
However, Simmons has yet to take part in a “high-intensity workout” since arriving in the trade that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Nash said Simmons’ conditioning was a key issue but did not comment on a report that Simmons is battling a sore back.
Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic did make his Nets debut, scoring six points in 14 minutes.
Irving said that despite the injuries and coronavirus concerns that have hindered the Nets so far this season, they have plenty of potential.
“When we get our full team back, we’re going to be good,” he said of a Nets team seeking to gain ground in an Eastern Conference led by the Miami Heat with the Chicago Bulls in hot pursuit.
The Heat moved a game ahead in the East with a 133-129 victory over the San Antonio Spurs while the Bulls fell 116-110 to Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Morant was spectacular in a 46-point performance, setting a career-high and a Grizzlies’ franchise record.
His display ended Chicago’s six-game winning streak. Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan also saw his streak of eight straight games with at least 35 points snapped, just two shy of the franchise record set by Michael Jordan.
DeRozan finished with 31 points and seven rebounds, but that wasn’t enough against 22-year-old Morant and his surging Grizzlies.
Morant connected on 54 percent of his shots from the field with a trio of three-pointers and an array of highlight-reel baskets that included a 360-degree spin to bank in a shot and an alley-oop dunk in his 20-point third quarter.
Miami, fueled by a season-high 36 points from Bam Adebayo, overcame a 16-point first-quarter deficit to improve to 40-21.
Celtics top Pistons
Elsewhere, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 53 points to lead the Celtics to a 113-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons and their rising star Cade Cunningham.
Tatum, fresh off his third All-Star Game appearance at the age of 23, had 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Brown scored 27 points, and the Celtics notched their 11th win in 12 games.
Cunningham scored 25 for Detroit, who started the fourth quarter with a four-point lead but couldn’t replicate their upset win over the Celtics earlier this month.
“I’ll give credit to Detroit, they came out and played another good game against us,” Brown said. “But down the line, we executed, made some shots, and got out and ran, and we guarded how we do per usual and the game opened up a little bit.”
Atlanta’s Trae Young bounced back from an off night with a 41-point outburst in the Hawks’ 127-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Young, who had connected on just three of 17 shots in a loss at Chicago on Thursday, made his first four shots against Chicago to put himself on his way to a fifth 40-point game this season.