Kyrie Irvings season debut provided an emotional lift Wednesday night as the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Indiana Pacers 129-121.

Irving appeared to not miss a step, as he posted 22 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals in 32 minutes. In addition, he sunk several crucial baskets down the stretch as the Nets erased a 19-point deficit.

“Just a lot of gratitude just to be present tonight with everyone,” Irving said. “Just go out there and have fun doing what we love to do. It was a not-so-good first half for us, and we came in the locker room and we knew that in order to build this identity that we want to have later in the season we got to start now.”

Irving, of course, made news for refusing the COVID-19 vaccination, which leaves him ineligible to play in New York City, where the Nets’ arena is located. The team decided to sit him so as not to have a “part-time player” on the roster, but a COVID outbreak forced the team’s hand to let him play on the road.

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After the game Irving was asked if his stance on vaccines had changed or will change.

“Man, I’m just taking it one day at a time,” he said. “Like I said earlier in the season, it’s not an ideal situation and I’m always praying that things get figured out and we’re able to come to some collective agreement, whether it be with the league or it’s just things that’s going on that could help kind of ease what we’re all dealing with COVID-19 and the vaccine.

“I think everybody’s feeling it, so I don’t want to make it simply about me and someone lessening the rules for me. I know what the consequences were, I still know what they are, but right now I’m just going to take it one day at a time like I said and just enjoy this time I get to play with my guys. And however it looks later in the season, then we’ll address it then.”

Brooklyn’s offense looked dynamic at times again with Irving back; Kevin Durant, who scored a game-high 39 points, said it was “amazing.”

“It was amazing to have him out there,” Durant said. “I just missed his presence around the locker room, his energy, his vibe around the team. And then his game is just so beautiful. It makes the game so much easier for everybody out there. It was amazing to see him out on the floor again.

“The crowd showed him so much love, teammates, just the game of basketball is happy to have him back. He made the game so much more difficult for the Pacers, giving us a different attack, especially in the fourth quarter. We’ll just keep building on this.”

“He looks like himself,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “Not a big surprise watching him play in practice—he’s so gifted and talented and you could see the rhythm was there, but it’s still an adaptation so we got to give him some space here as he transitions back to playing, but tonight he was big.”

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