One year to the day of the trade that sent him to the Dallas Mavericks, former Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving returned to Barclays Center Tuesday to lead the Mavs to a 119-107 victory.
Irving, who did not get a tribute video, scored 36 points, a a game-high, but his teammate and forward Luka Doncic filled it up across the board with 35 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists, falling just short of his 16th triple-double of the season.
The nationally televised game was primarily about star power, as the Mavericks' stars Irving and Doncic were too much to overcome for the short-handed Nets. Mikal Bridges led his team in scoring with 28 points on 11-21 shooting.
The Mavs' win dropped Brooklyn to 20-30 for the season, keeping them in 11th place in the Eastern Conference as the NBA trade deadline approaches. The miracle salve of often-injured point guard Ben Simmons and his positive impact on fast break points and team chemistry evaporated into the night, as shot-making was on the side of the Mavericks.
The NBA is a star-driven league; the biggest stars easily score the ball. Irving may have been a difficult personality in the past for the Nets, but he has always been great at making difficult shots, often from tough angles. Doncic and Irving were on fire in the 2nd quarter, as the Mavs' 6-point lead in the first quarter grew to an 18-point advantage in the second frame.
When the Mavericks began a 14-2 run that covered the late 1st and early 2nd quarter, the Nets field-goal futility mounted and the team defensively could not figure out how to stop Dallas from scoring. That put them in a hole at halftime, trailing 47-65 going into intermission.
The 3rd quarter opened with improved shooting from the Nets, but their halftime deficit didn’t afford them the luxury to trade basket for basket. The Nets improved their efficiency in the 3rd quarter but fell short of the firepower needed to outscore Doncic and Irving.
The Mavericks' two stars made difficult shots look easy with driving layups and perimeter bombs from the deep 3-point area, helping their team keep pace with the Nets, who shot 50% from the field in the 3rd quarter, but generally misfired from beyond the stripe, shooting just 33.3% on 3-point shots.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn went with an eight-man player rotation for a lineup that did not include forward Cam Johnson and guard Lonnie Walker IV, whose contribution was sorely missed.
The Brooklyn Nets have not won many games in 2024 and currently sit outside of the play-in tournament for the Eastern Conference. Most teams suffer through injury spells, though the Nets have been injury-plagued for the entire season. That said, Bridges still thinks is a possibility for this team to get into the playoffs.
The Nets are back on the court Thursday, where they face the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center for a 7:30 p.m. game.