When Kyrie Irving first entered Duke’s game vs. Hampton, it was clear he wasn’t the electrifying player that wowed college basketball back in November and early December.
It took about 15 minutes.
Irving scored a game-high 14 points, grabbed four rebounds, had two assists and two turnovers in 20 minutes of play during the Blue Devils’ 87-win Friday. Not bad for his first game action in more than three months.
“I haven’t played in three months, so this game was really nerve-racking,” Irving said. “But once I got the butterflies out, I started to play really well.”
He entered the game with 15:19 remaining in the first half, showing signs of rust. An offensive foul here, a wild shot there showed Irving might’ve been a little too amped to play. But he worked into the game flow, took his time.
And with a little more than five minutes remaining, Irving finally found his form. Here’s a rundown of my notes:
5:27: Irving grabs rebound on right wing, takes it coast-to-coast for a bucket. First time he actually looked like Kyrie of old.
3:41: Another impressive series. Grabs a Hampton inbounds pass, goes length of the court and finishes by going right at defender, scores with left hand.
2:20: Gets ball on wing, jukes two defenders, find Dawkins for driving layup
1:55: Gets ball off turnover. Pulls up for 3, hits.
1:20: Gets rebound, comes down left side, pulls up for another 3. Drains it.
Defense needs work, tho. Not as quick laterally on defense as usual.
I wasn’t sure Irving would play Friday, mostly because I knew Duke wouldn’t need him and wouldn’t risk and further injury to the big toe. But it turned out to be the perfect move by coach Mike Krzyzewski because it let Irving play in a glorified scrimmage.
“You can’t come on the court after being out for three months and not having — and only having very limited practice time and expect just to be fluid, but I thought as the game went along, we were fortunate we got him to play 20 minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “I was really pleased. I thought he was very confident as it moved along, you know, just — we’re fortunate to get that many minutes for him.”
Now Irving will be that much more confident for Sunday’s game against Michigan and the rest of the tournament. I’m no Duke fan, but as a college hoops fan, that’s a promising sign for the rest of March Madness.
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