NBA

Irving admits need to 'catch up to NBA speed' after Nets lose in Portland

By Sports Desk January 11, 2022

Kyrie Irving impressed in only his second game of the season but insisted he still has to get up to speed after the Brooklyn Nets were surprisingly beaten at the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.

A dominant third quarter from Portland, in which they bettered the visitors by 13 points, ended up being crucial as they ran out 114-108 winners, despite being short-handed going into the game.

Anfernee Simons starred with 23 points, six rebounds and 11 assists for the Blazers, who were missing Damian Lillard (abdomen) as well as Norman Powell (COVID-19 protocol), Larry Nance Jr (knee) and CJ McCollum, who is expected to return soon after recovering from a collapsed lung.

The Nets were themselves without James Harden (knee) but did have Kevin Durant (28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) on court. The 33-year-old's points return marked 19 straight games with 20 or more points, the second-longest streak of 20-point games in Nets history.

Irving has refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and is therefore barred from playing in New York due to the city's vaccine mandate, but was playing just his second game on the road for the Nets this season and managed 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

"It felt like I made a few good moves, but now it's just getting back in that NBA action of that athleticism and catching up to that speed. That's really what it is at this point, I feel," Irving said after the loss.

Portland first-year coach Chauncey Billups had been effusive in his praise of Irving before the game, stating his belief that 29-year-old was the "most skilled point guard in history".

After the victory for his team, Billups praised his own players, saying that nobody thought this result was possible.

"Certainly nobody in the world thought that we would win this game with the guys that we have missing, even though they're missing some important players too," Billups said. "I'm more happy than anything for our team, to be honest. We've suffered a lot of losses in this building, a lot of bad losses."

The result means the Nets are 25-14 and second in the east while the Blazers improve to 16-24.

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  • Europa League misery will not taint Alonso's Leverkusen pride Europa League misery will not taint Alonso's Leverkusen pride

    Xabi Alonso will not allow Bayer Leverkusen's Europa League final defeat against Atalanta to alter his pride, after their historic 51-game unbeaten run ended on Wednesday.

    The Bundesliga champions were eyeing an unlikely treble, with the DFB-Pokal final to come this weekend, but those plans came crashing down in a 3-0 loss to Atalanta.

    Ademola Lookman single-handedly powered Gian Piero Gasperini's side to their first title in 61 years, producing an individual performance for the ages with a decisive hat-trick.

    European heartbreak marked Leverkusen's first loss this season, with their last defeat coming to Bochum on the last day of the 2022-23 Bundesliga campaign, as Alonso's side were finally stopped.

    Yet the former Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder says nothing can take away from Leverkusen's memorable campaign.

    "For me the result today does not change one bit how I feel about my players or what we have been doing," the Leverkusen head coach told TNT Sports.

    "It hurts because we wanted to lift the trophy but you can't have everything. We lifted the Bundesliga and we have the chance to lift the DFB-Pokal on Saturday."

    Leverkusen are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same term since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

    "This season and achievements have surpassed all expectations," Alonso continued.

    "I was hoping and getting ready to maybe do something great but this has been so much more.

    "To achieve what we have for a club like Leverkusen is great. To be in the last week of the season having lifted the Bundesliga and then going for the Pokal too means a lot.

    "First year as a coach, it is going quite well!"

    A monumental occasion at the Aviva Stadium marked Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    Alonso was unsurprised by the excellence of Gasperini and his Atalanta side, however.

    "It is not something they have just done this year, they have been doing it for many years," the Spaniard said, acknowledging the work of 66-year-old Gasperini.

    "They are a special team. Normally we get in better positions ourselves but today we could not.

    "We were not able to come back and get that back. It was not meant to be.

    "The unbeaten run has come to an end but congratulations to Atalanta, they deserve it, so nothing more to say."

  • 'We wrote history' – Gasperini and Lookman cherish Atalanta's Europa League glory 'We wrote history' – Gasperini and Lookman cherish Atalanta's Europa League glory

    Gian Piero Gasperini and Ademola Lookman both cherished creating Atalanta history after ending Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten run and securing Europa League glory.

    Lookman produced a performance worthy of the most important European moment in Atalanta's history, securing the club's first-ever major trophy on the continent after his dazzling hat-trick.

    The Nigeria winger is just the sixth player to manage a treble in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo when Gasperini's side head home, boasting their first trophy in 61 years – after the Coppa Italia – following a 3-0 triumph to end Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run.

    "One of the best nights of my life," the hat-trick hero told TNT Sports in Dublin.

    "Amazing performance from the team, we did it, we did it, we did it! I haven't got much else to say, but fantastic."

    Lookman is also just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup

    Preparing to leave the Aviva Stadium with the Europa League trophy in hand, Lookman could not wait to celebrate a seismic moment in the club's history.

    "We've got to celebrate, we made history tonight," he added.

    Gasperini, aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday, is the oldest coach to win his debut major European final, and the second Italian coach to win the Europa League after Maurizio Sarri in 2019.

    The veteran Atalanta mastermind echoed Lookman's sentiment, after securing just a second trophy in the Italian club's history.

    "I think we wrote history, also for the way we won it," said Gasperini, speaking to UEFA's official media channels.

    "It was just extraordinary, we defeated Liverpool, Sporting who won the championship. When we faced Liverpool they were first in the Premier League... And now the German champions.

    "Incredible. The boys were extraordinary, a memorable performance."

  • Lookman etches name into Atalanta history after Europa League glory against Leverkusen Lookman etches name into Atalanta history after Europa League glory against Leverkusen

    Ademola Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo after his hat-trick inspired Atalanta to Europa League glory, ending Bayer Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run after a 3-0 defeat in Dublin.

    Nigeria winger Lookman is just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup.

    His single-handed match-winning heroics secured Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    The records continued to tumble for Lookman, whose hat-trick was the sixth in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Having no response to a performance for the ages, Leverkusen suffered their first defeat since their final game of the 2022-23 season, ending a 361-day unbeaten run from last losing 3-0 to Bochum.

    Gian Piero Gasperini's masterclass will etch his name into Atalanta history, with the Italian – aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday – the fourth oldest manager to win a major European trophy.

    Only Raymond Goethals (71y 231d, 1993 Champions League), Heynckes (68y 16d, 2013 Champions League) and Alex Ferguson (66y 142d, 2008 Champions League), have done so at an older age.

    Owing to Gasperini's genius and Lookman's quality, Atalanta are the first Italian side to lift the Europa League trophy since its rebrand in 2009, with Parma in 1999 the last Serie A side to win the UEFA Cup.

    Alonso will hope to bounce back in Saturday's DFB-Pokal final but the Bundesliga champions are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same season since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

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