No sound heard Saturday night at Barclays Center — not the roars of a sellout crowd of 15,750 emerging from isolation, not the hush that hung in the air during a first-quarter timeout after James Harden came up lame, not the “M-V-P” chants that serenaded Kevin Durant nor the jeers that rained on Giannis Antetokounmpo — can compare, as part of the packed-to-the-rafters live basketball experience, to the involuntary oohs and aahs that ring out when Kyrie Irving is getting fancy with his handles.
The superstar guard delivered a spectacular performance Saturday night in the Nets’ 115-107 Game 1 win over the Bucks, stepping up as a showman and as a leader in equal measure.
He scored 25 points off his patented array of dribble moves, including 20 in the first half while the Nets were still wrapping their heads around Harden’s exit due to a right hamstring injury, and added eight assists. He played 44 minutes (a season high with the exception of a double-overtime game) in a rotation that was adjusted on the fly, and the Nets were plus-14 in those minutes.
“Kyrie was so important for us, giving us that outlet, that person who could make a play,” coach Steve Nash said. “He’s been there before. He just is such a presence on the court for us. … His impact, especially in that first half, was so important for us to come in at halftime on top.”
Irving also showed his playoff mettle, forged in deep runs and legendary Game 7s, in his first postseason with the team he grew up rooting for in New Jersey. He worked to calm the Nets after Harden went out.
“We just came in the huddle, made sure everybody on the bench knew the situation we were in and then we play out from there,” Irving said.
And there’s every reason to think the fireworks will continue as the series progresses and the Bucks try to stampede back. Irving wasn’t even at his most efficient, shooting 11-of-26 from the field and 3-of-11 from 3-point range (2-of-10 and 1-of-6, respectively, in the second half).
“He was unlucky tonight not to have a monster game,” Nash said. “I think he had a lot of balls that were in and out, but they looked good and those will go down for him.”