LOS ANGELES: Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving quickly shook off the rust from his long injury layoff on Sunday (Monday in Manila), scoring 12 points in a 108-86 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in his NBA season debut.
Irving hadn’t played since breaking his left kneecap in the opening game of last season’s NBA Finals, an injury quickly followed by surgery in June.
Irving missed his first five shots, but made four of five in one stretch and finished with an even dozen in 17 minutes on the floor.
“Kind of been a long, long road, but finally getting out there with my teammates was a pleasure,” said Irving, who acknowledged a pre-game ovation from fans with a wave.
“It feels good, just getting this one out of the way,” admitted Irving, who will now face the Golden State Warriors in a Christmas Day Finals re-match on Friday.
“Honestly, for me it was just about getting back when I got the clearance from my doctors, so, whether that be at Christmas or before Christmas, I was going to take their word and trust them.”
Cavs superstar LeBron James scored 23 points and played a season-low 26 minutes against league doormats Philadelphia. Aussie guard Matthew Dellavedova contributed 20 points off the bench, including four three-pointers — missing career highs on each by one.
The Sixers, meanwhile, dropped their 10th straight game since posting their lone win of the season.
Number one draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns ended up putting on quite a show for his friends and family, scoring 24 points to lead his Minnesota Timberwolves to a 100-85 victory over the Nets in Brooklyn.
A native of nearby New Jersey, Towns said it was “awesome” to play in front familiar faces, and in the building where he was drafted in June.
“I was just ecstatic,” he said. “It felt like I was at the park out here tonight, just having a blast, having fun no matter what happened.”
Towns got off to a slow start, but made nine of his last 14 shots, including a monstrous dunk late in the first half that had team-mate Kevin Garnett jumping out of his seat.
The game was a return of sorts for Garnett, too, as he faced the Nets for the first time since they traded him in February back to the Timberwolves team where he launched his NBA career in 1995.
The 39-year-old Garnett was six games into his NBA career when the 20-year-old Towns was born on November 15, 1995.
Despite the emotion of his afternoon, Towns said the Timberwolves’ MVP on the day was Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, who came off the bench to score 20 points and pull down 10 rebounds.
Minnesota’s Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio tied a season-high with 15 assists in just 28 minutes on the court.
Turn up the Heat
Miami guard Goran Dragic of Slovenia notched an unwelcome first for his NBA career when two third-quarter technical fouls saw him ejected from the Heat’s emotional 116-109 victory over the visiting Portland Trail Blazers.
Complaints from Dragic over foul calls had referee James Williams tacking on the technicals that sent Dragic to the locker room, where, he said, he paced around in disbelief.
“I was mad,” Dragic said. “I couldn’t watch the game.”
Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside were also called for technicals in the period, but coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t mind.
“It was harrowing in the second half,” Spoelstra said. “But I like us showing some mental stability and competive toughness.”
Chris Bosh led the Heat with 29 points while Whiteside played a key role with 22 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.