After he missed 26 straight games with his right shoulder impingement, Kyrie Irving came back for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Hawks and starred.
Among his game-high 21 points, Irving shot a personal-best 91 percent from the field, making 10 of 11 shots, as the Nets welcomed back their starting point guard and rolled to a 108-86 win over the Hawks at Barclays Center in New York.
"It was kind of a long road back," Irving said after the win. "A lot of questions I had to answer (about the) health of my shoulder, longevity, what would have been the best option for my health long-term. Once I got that foundation set, it was easy to make that decision (to return to the court)."
Taking care of business against the Hawks (8-32), the Nets (18-20) have won two straight games after snapping a seven-loss skid with Friday's 117-113 comeback over the Miami Heat (27-12). More importantly, Irving is finally back and -- for at least one game -- has not skipped a beat.
"What an experience to play in front of these fans again," Irving told YES Network after the game. "I really missed the game of basketball. I'm grateful to be out here, man. I worked extremely hard to get back. We've got a long season ahead of us, a lot more goals to accomplish and it starts tonight and we've got to continue to do it."
Irving started with fellow point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, shooting guard Joe Harris, power forward Taurean Prince and center Jarrett Allen as the Nets went small in a three-guard lineup.
He said after the game that he didn't want to be overaggressive but downplayed the idea that he would have any issue fitting with Dinwiddie, who led Brooklyn in Irving's absence.
When asked after the game about establishing chemistry, Irving said, "You've got to have reps, you've got to be out there together. But I think something that doesn't really get mentioned a lot: when you're a great basketball player, a great basketball mind, you're able to play with anyone out there on the floor, you're able to adjust."
Irving adjusted well in his first game since Nov. 14.
Back on the court for the first time since Nov. 14's road game against the Denver Nuggets, in which he played through his injury for 17 points on 8-of-20 shooting, Irving immediately catalyzed the Nets' offense.
After dishing a pass to Allen on a pick-and-roll layup for the basket and the foul on the Nets' opening possession, Irving sunk his first shot at the nine-minute mark of the first quarter when he drove into the lane with a left-handed contested layup to go up, 8-2.
"I just work on my game diligently, but you have nights like this," Irving said. "But coming back, my teammates, having the support of them and, like I said, having my family here is always a great joy. I love the game, man, and I missed it so much."
Irving added four rebounds and three assists while the Nets shot 53.2 percent (41 for 77) from the field and 38.5 percent (10 for 26) from three-point range.
He was asked after the game about his shot total (11) and the idea that he was trying to fit into the Nets' offense in his first game back.
"I'm at this point in my career where I'm mature enough to go out there and play the right way," Irving said. "I've had that point in my career where I've been very aggressive, trying to jack up a bunch of shots, shoot low percentages."
Irving smiled while answering the question, saying that those days are behind him.
The Nets as a team played unselfishly on Sunday.
Among Brooklyn's 25 assists, Dinwiddie dished a game-high eight dimes and added seven points.
Along with Irving, six Nets -- Prince (14), shooting guard Caris LeVert (13), small forward Wilson Chandler (13), Harris (11) and Allen (10) -- were double-digit scorers.
"We can be very dangerous," Irving said of the Nets, who get Monday off before hosting the Utah Jazz (27-12) Tuesday. "We've got to play together. That's the most important thing. We've got to really sacrifice for one another and do the right things on the defensive end, and we'll be OK."
Irving also said he doesn't expect to be held out for injury maintenance moving forward. Irving smiled when talking about establishing chemistry with his teammates.
"I'm not going to be petty here but there's been a lot of things said about what I bring to the locker room, the negative side of it, but I'm just going to continue to be me," he said. " That's what I've made my mark on -- teaching guys, giving them positive encouragement when needed, making sure we have some team outings, making sure we're just collectively on the same page."