The “Masked Man” is back, but is he better?
After missing one game with a facial fracture that he suffered in the first quarter of the Boston Celtics’ 90-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 11, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving returned to the hardwood on Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets with shiny plastic strapped to his visage.
“I hate wearing it, but somehow it’s caused a craze on Instagram as well as social media,” Irving said before the game of the protective mask that countless NBA players from Wilt Chamberlain to Kobe Bryant, Richard “Rip” Hamilton and LeBron James have been required to wear after suffering an injury to their faces. “I understand that it’s just for my safety, so I throw on the mask for a few weeks and go about my business.”
Tuesday didn’t mark the first time that Irving has had to take precautionary measures to protect his face. On Dec. 14, 2012, back in the pre-James teammate days of his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving broke a bone in his jaw in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. A day later, the then-20-year-old donned a mask while facing the New York Knicks on the road.
So, how did Irving’s first game wearing a mask with the Celtics compare with his first one with the Cavs? Let’s break it down.
Dec. 15, 2012 — Cavs vs. Knicks, Madison SQuare Garden
Mask color: Black
Stat line: 41 points, 15-for-25 shooting (5-for-8 from 3-point), 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
Irving, aka Zorro, aka the Phantom of the Garden, went nuts for a then-career-high 41 points while saucing up Knicks guards Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd (then 39 years old) and Pablo Prigioni in 39 minutes on the floor. But remember, this was a Cleveland squad about a year and a half removed from James’ decision to come home. So even on Irving’s monster night, as Carmelo Anthony sat on New York’s bench with a sprained ankle, the struggling Cavs lost. In 19 games wearing a mask (both black and clear) during the 2012-13 season, Irving averaged 24.5 points while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Nov. 14 — Celtics vs. nets, barclays center
Mask color: Clear
Stat line: 25 points, 8-for-20 shooting (2-for-5 from 3-point), 5 assists and 3 rebounds.
Before Irving got fitted for his mask heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, his infant daughter, Azurie, accidentally hit him in the face in the spot where he suffered the fracture after teammate Aron Baynes inadvertently elbowed him while going for a block on Hornets guard Kemba Walker. “I did my absolute best not to cry in front of her. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, baby,’ ” Irving said of the moment with his daughter. “She hit me right on that spot.” Irving fought through the pain for a game-high 25 points. It wasn’t the career night that he pieced together while masked four years ago, but Irving led the Celtics to their 13th consecutive win.
As for when he’ll be able to bump that Future and take his “Mask Off?” — who knows? Until then, let’s revel in the fact that there’s just something about Kyrie Irving, in New York, rocking a mask.