Kyrie Irving has been a polarizing player over the course of his 12-year NBA career, but his incredible one-on-one shot-making ability has never been up for debate. Irving displayed those unique skills on the final possession of the Brooklyn Nets' 119-116 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, knocking down a game-winning, step-back 3-pointer as time expired.
With 3.7 seconds remaining and the game tied at 116, the Nets had a simple goal: Get Irving isolated and let him go to work. Kevin Durant freed Irving up with a screen as then the rest of the Nets spread the floor and watched as Irving drove toward the basket, stopped on a dime with a pull-back dribble, and then hit nothing but net on the game-winner over Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.
"Once [Irving] got into his move and pulled up for a shot, it was a wide open look. And he's an all-time great shooter," Durant said after the game. "I had confidence as soon as he rose up for the shot that it was going in. I'm sure everybody back in Brooklyn and everybody on the bench felt the same way."
Irving has made plenty of clutch shots, including one of the most cold-blooded daggers in league history -- his 3 in the final minute of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals that propelled the Cleveland Cavaliers to the title. But his shot on Friday night was the first game-winning buzzer beater of his career. It was also the first buzzer-beater for the Nets since Brook Lopez's in 2017.
"It was a good matchup versus Fred. I just got the better of him that one time," Irving said. "Who would've thought I'd come to Toronto and hit my first game-winning buzzer beater of my NBA career?"
Due to local statutes, Irving was prohibited from playing in Toronto all of last season because of his decision not to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. He was also unable to play in his home arena of Barclays Center and nearby Madison Square Garden for the majority of the season before New York City changed its policy last spring.
Irving was brilliant down the stretch on Friday after Brooklyn trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half, scoring 15 of his team-high 32 points in the fourth quarter on 7-for-9 shooting. He entered the game averaging eight points per game in the fourth quarter, tied with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo for third in the NBA.
After a mediocre start headlined by Irving's promotion of a film containing antisemitic material and, the Nets have been one of the league's hottest teams of late. Friday's win over the Raptors was their fifth straight, and they're now 9-1 in their last 10 games. During that stretch, Irving has averaged 26.2 points, 5.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the field.