NBA

Kyrie Irving sees 'light at the end of the tunnel' after season-high score against Bucks

By Sports Desk February 27, 2022

Kyrie Irving can see "light at the end of the tunnel" after the best performance of his difficult season in the Brooklyn Nets' defeat of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Irving put up 38 points, as the Nets beat the reigning champions 126-123 on the road on Saturday.

With Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons sidelined, Irving stepped up with a strong performance, finishing 14-of-26 shooting to overshadow Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It was a glimpse of a possibly exciting end to the season for the Nets and Irving, whose appearances have been limited by the vaccine mandate in New York City.

The 29-year-old, who is unvaccinated, has only been able to play in road games until now, but New York City mayor Eric Adams said this week that the mandate is likely to be phased out as cities across the United States begin to remove their COVID-19 restrictions.

"I'm glad that things are kind of settling down and there's light at the end of the tunnel here," Irving said. "Hopefully, I can get back on that home floor playing in the Barclays, and now we can finally have that conversation that you've been dying to have just about turning the page and moving forward beyond this.

"But like I said, I'm not the only one. I feel for everybody that's either in my boat or a similar boat or has dealt with some type of trauma from this. And just wishing everybody well-wishes, always."

 

On the prospect of New York's mandate being lifted, Irving said: "I'm following it as much as you guys are, so just remaining patient and just seeing where things end up in this next week or so, next two weeks, I'm not too sure, but I know as much as you do.

"And I want to say this: I'm very appreciative of all those that are pushing behind the scenes to make our world a better place.

"And with everything calming down with the COVID cases, the most important thing for me was just making sure everyone's okay. I've been on record saying this that it's not about me, that I don't want to feel like it's all on me, but the circumstances this year have not been ideal."

Irving has only played in 15 games this season but has maintained a points average of 25.1, above his career figure of 22.9. That is despite his field-goal percentage (45.9 per cent) dropping to its lowest since his penultimate season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015-16.

He said he was grateful to NBA commissioner Adam Silver for suggesting the New York mandate "doesn't quite make sense" as unvaccinated opposition players were still allowed to play.

"I know his job is not easy, standing in the fire, sometimes, on behalf of our league," he added. "So my respect level went to a whole new one for him, and I'm just grateful that he did that, and he really took one for the team. And I'm grateful for that.

"But like I said, we want to set a great example for the world in what we're doing, and we try to stand for what's right and respect everyone else's decisions and their personal beliefs."

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    South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber accepts his team have plenty of room for improvement with just under a year to go until their Rugby World Cup defence gets under way.

    The Springboks could only beat Argentina 38-21 in the final match of the Rugby Championship on Saturday, and that meant New Zealand took the trophy.

    South Africa required a try-scoring bonus point plus a winning margin of at least 39 points at Kings Park in Durban, but the Pumas would not be rolled over in such a manner.

    The daunting title target for the Boks had been set when the All Blacks posted a crushing 40-14 victory against Australia earlier in the day.

    Before their 2019 World Cup win, the Boks won a three-match Rugby Championship. The 2020 championship was cancelled due to the pandemic, but the All Blacks have now carried off the title in 2021 and 2022, this time around serving to ease some of the pressure on coach Ian Foster.

    It was tight this year, with New Zealand and South Africa both winning four of six games, but the All Blacks managed one more bonus point and a superior points difference.

    Nienaber is already looking forward to November away games against Ireland, France, Italy and England, as South Africa look to gather themselves for a big push into next year. The World Cup begins in September 2023 in France.

    "We are not there yet, we need to find consistency," Nienaber said. "In that regard, we will get a good idea where we are on the end-of-year tour.

    "We play the number one [Ireland] and number two [France] in the world in the first two games of the tour. So it will be a challenging tour for us."

    South Africa had not scored 39 points in a match, let alone won by that margin, since a 40-9 defeat of Georgia in July 2021.

    They last beat Argentina by such a hefty points margin in 2013, when posting a 73-13 landslide win, but the Pumas are far more competitive nowadays, as wins over Australia and New Zealand in this championship showed.

    Nienaber said his players still felt they could pull off the improbable against Argentina when they took to the field.

    "We saw it as a realistic target, we took on the task full on," Nienaber said, quoted by Supersport. "We needed to get a 39-point winning margin to win the trophy, and we all bought into it.

    "In the end we came up short, but you can never take a win in the Springbok jersey for granted, victory is always special. We are glad we came out on the right side of today's result, even if we didn't get what we needed to win the championship."

  • Spain 1-2 Switzerland: La Roja's Nations League Finals hopes dealt major blow Spain 1-2 Switzerland: La Roja's Nations League Finals hopes dealt major blow

    Spain will have to win in Portugal if they are to reach the Nations League Finals after suffering a shock 2-1 home defeat to Switzerland in Group A2 on Saturday.

    As Portugal cruised to a comfortable 4-0 win over Czech Republic, Luis Enrique's side failed to make the most of their superiority in Zaragoza and slumped to a first defeat since the 2021 Nations League final loss to France.

    Spain had great difficulty converting possession into a goal threat, at no point in the first half looking likely to cancel out Manuel Akanji's opener.

    Marco Asensio did inspire Jordi Alba's equaliser early in the second half, but an Eric Garcia own goal almost instantly had them playing catch up again and a second equaliser never materialised.

    Despite their dominance of the ball, Spain struggled to carve out chances and were behind in the 21st minute as Akanji met Ruben Vargas' corner with a header that found the top-right corner.

    The only other first-half shot on target for either team arrived just before the break, Unai Simon forced to keep Xherdan Shaqiri's effort out at his near post after the winger's incisive run.

    It took 55 minutes for Spain to muster an accurate attempt and it brought the equaliser, with Alba hammering home after Asensio released him at the end of a brilliant solo run.

    But the visitors quickly restored their lead – Garcia ultimately knocking into his own net following Akanji's flick-on from another Vargas corner.

    La Roja played most of the final 30 minutes camped in Switzerland's half, but their only clear opportunity saw Yann Sommer get down to thwart Carlos Soler and seal victory in stoppage time.

  • Nagelsmann has 'full backing of Bayern' as Salihamidzic expects return to form Nagelsmann has 'full backing of Bayern' as Salihamidzic expects return to form

    Julian Nagelsmann will turn around Bayern Munich's form after the international break and has the club's "full backing", sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has pledged.

    A run of three draws in the Bundesliga for Bayern was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Augsburg before many of Nagelsmann's players headed off on national team duty.

    Bayern sit fifth after seven rounds of games, five points adrift of early pace-setters Union Berlin, and they face Bayer Leverkusen next.

    Leverkusen have made a much worse start than Bayern, with the team that finished third in the Bundesliga last season winning just once so far this term.

    But almost all the focus is on Bayern, who have won the last 10 Bundesliga titles, and Salihamidzic has admitted the early form is a concern, but something that can be resolved.

    Salihamidzic told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper: "Julian is very clear. He and his team of coaches know exactly what to do.

    "Above all, Julian knows that he has the full backing of FC Bayern, that doesn't have to be emphasised again and again."

    Bayern's shot conversion rate in the Bundesliga has dipped from 14.41 per cent last season to 11.8 per cent this term, and it would be easy to point to the sale of Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona and suggest that has been a factor.

    It might well be; however, there are signs that Bayern are doing plenty right.

     

    They have already hit the woodwork seven times in seven games, three times more than any other side, which suggests they have been unfortunate. Over 34 games last season, they hit the woodwork 21 times.

    Their goal tally is closely tracking their expected goals (xG) score, and both being league highs can be interpreted as another healthy sign. Bayern have netted 19 from an xG of 17.48, so they are exceeding expectations, based on the quality of chances they have had, over the course of the seven games. Last season they finished with 97 league goals from xG of 96.67.

    A worrying sign is that Bayern have twice conceded a goal when an error has been committed, having done so only three times in the 2021-22 campaign.

     

    Salihamidzic said Bayern chiefs had spoken to Nagelsmann about "all aspects" of the opening weeks of the season, including the encouraging Champions League group wins over Inter and Barcelona.

    What is clear is that Bayern expect greater tenacity from the team after the disappointing derby effort against Augsburg.

    "We will appear differently after the international break. And I expect that too," Salihamidzic said. "Physical intensity, greed and the willingness to push yourself to the limit in every game are the prerequisites for success."

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