NBA

Irving will not change vaccine stance despite Durant layoff: I'm standing rooted in what I believe in

By Sports Desk January 18, 2022

Kyrie Irving does not feel compelled to change his stance regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the Brooklyn Nets potentially being without Kevin Durant for six weeks.

The seven-time NBA All-Star has refused to be vaccinated against coronavirus and is therefore banned from playing in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate.

Irving was left off the Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season, but that decision was reversed last month when the 29-year-old was included as a part-time player.

He has been restricted to four road games so far and has averaged 20 points, which is down on his career average of 22.8.

The Nets could do with Irving more than ever after losing Durant to a knee injury that will keep him out for at least a month, but the point guard is staying rooted to his decision.

"That's what I think comes into a lot of this culture and basketball and sport and entertainment," he said. "You bring in teams and you bring in situations. 

"Kev's going to heal, Kev's going to be okay, and we're going to have to deal with that as his team-mates. 

"But in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision. And that's just what it is.

"It's not going to be swayed just because of one thing in this NBA life. That somehow it's brought to my attention as being more important than what's going on in the real world. 

"It's just not happening for me. I respect everyone else's decision. I'm not going to try to convince anyone of anything or any of that, I'm just standing rooted in what I believe in. 

"Though we're dealing with this right now with Kev, I know I'm protected by the organisation, by my team-mates, by all the doctors I've talked to. And I just stand rooted."

 

Irving was speaking after leading Brooklyn with 27 points in their 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday – his best tally since returning to action this month.

The Nets are once again denied the chance to partner star trio James Harden, Durant and Irving, but head coach Steve Nash is hopeful others can step up.

"It's a great opportunity for guys and our team to grow," he said. "We can't rely on Kevin in ways we could, and we have to find ways and solutions to be competitive without him."

The Nets' 'Big Three' have played only 16 games together, going 13-3 across that period.

"It's a great challenge for us," Nash added. "I don't spend time dwelling on it. It wouldn't do us any good. It wouldn't do me any good. 

"It wouldn't do the team any good if the leader of the team is sitting at home contemplating how many games they haven't played.

"That would take me away from being excited and positive to come in every day and try to affect the group positively for these guys to feel empowered and to grow."

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    Luka Doncic lauded the belief in the Dallas Mavericks dressing room after playing a starring role in a 123-90 thrashing of the Phoenix Suns.

    The Mavs advanced to the Western Conference finals, where they will face the Golden State Warriors, courtesy of a dominant showing in Game 7 against the top-seeded Suns.

    Doncic had as many points as Phoenix in the first half, making a mockery of the Mavs' status as supposed underdogs.

    And it came as no surprise to Doncic, who finished with 35 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

    “I know we were the underdogs,” he said.

    "Everybody had the Suns to win this one, but the whole locker room believed and that's what won us the game."

    Asked whether he knew he alone had matched the home team's total first-half points tally, Doncic said: "Yeah, of course.

    "I'm having fun. I always say when I'm having fun it is the way I best play.

    "Honestly, I'm really happy, man. You can't get this smile off my face right now.

    "I think we deserve this. We were playing hard the whole series – maybe a couple of games here we were not ourselves.

    "But we knew we came here with a statement Game 7. We believed, our locker room believed, everybody believed, so I'm just happy."

  • Chris Paul vows to continue playing afters Suns collapse against Mavs Chris Paul vows to continue playing afters Suns collapse against Mavs

    Chris Paul vowed to carry on playing after the Phoenix Suns suffered more playoff heartbreak by going down to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

    A year ago, the Suns blew a 2-0 lead to lose the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks but responded by recording the best regular-season record in the league this campaign.

    Once again the Suns were heavily fancied and even more so after taking a 2-0 lead against the Mavs.

    But on Sunday it was a feeling of deja vu as the Suns were blown out of the water in a 123-90 defeat to crash out of contention.

    At one stage the Mavs led by 46 points, while the Suns had just 27 in a disappointing first half – veteran Paul not registering his first field goal until the third quarter.

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    "You play long enough and you don't win, every time you lose, they're going to say it was your best chance," Paul told reporters.

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  • From Manchester to Seville: Rangers' 14-year journey back to a European final From Manchester to Seville: Rangers' 14-year journey back to a European final

    None of us truly know where this life is going to take us, and what highs and lows we will experience along the way.

    That is especially true for anyone associated with Rangers Football Club if you had told them after the 2008 UEFA Cup final they would next reach another European showpiece 14 years later.

    As the Gers players trudged off the field at the Etihad Stadium having been thoroughly outplayed by Zenit, the disappointment was tempered with a belief that at least this was a team that had made a final and may have been on the way to more.

    It took nearly a decade and a half, but on Wednesday they find themselves heading to Spain to line up opposite Eintracht Frankfurt to contest the Europa League final.

    Here, Stats Perform takes a look at how Rangers got from Manchester to Seville, with one of the bumpiest rides football has ever seen.

    A night to forget in Manchester

    Under the guidance of legendary manager Walter Smith in 2007-08, Rangers were looking to overthrow rivals Celtic in the league, having been bested by the Hoops the previous two seasons.

    It was no good as Celtic made it a third Scottish title in a row, beating Rangers by three points, but there was a silver lining for the blue half of Glasgow.

    Having finished third in their Champions League group behind Barcelona and Lyon, Rangers found themselves in the UEFA Cup.

    They overcame Panathinaikos on away goals first up, before beating Werder Bremen 2-0 at Ibrox in first leg of the last 16, one of only two wins they actually managed in their entire run.

    After getting past Sporting Lisbon in the quarter-finals, a penalty shoot-out success after 210 goalless minutes against Fiorentina sent Smith's side to the final.

    However, it was a step too far for Rangers as they succumbed to defeat in Manchester, losing 2-0 to a Zenit team containing Andrei Arshavin and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, and managed by former Gers boss Dick Advocaat.

    It was a blow but Rangers went on to win the next three Scottish titles until things began to unravel in the 2011-12 season, with poor form and a points deduction for financial issues seeing Celtic take the crown back.

    That was far from the worst thing that happened to the club that year, though.

    The fall and rise of Rangers

    The financial issues were worse than first feared. Owing significant money to HM Revenue and Customs, The Rangers Football Club plc entered liquidation on 31 October 2012.

    The club was forced to reform under the new ownership of Charles Green and a vote from other member clubs of the Scottish Football League meant Rangers were forced to begin again at the bottom, in the third division.

    Although they had to sell most of their players to raise money and because few fancied playing in Scotland's fourth tier, Rangers still boasted by far the strongest squad in the third division, while manager Ally McCoist had also stayed on to try and take them back to the top.

    They unsurprisingly won the league by 24 points in their first season, and had even fewer problems in the second division, now called League One, going unbeaten and drawing only three of their 36 games, securing 102 points and promotion at the first time of asking again.

    The Championship was a different prospect altogether, though, as Rangers found themselves in with both Hibernian and Hearts. The two Edinburgh clubs ultimately finished above them, though Rangers beat both Queen of the South and Hibs in the playoffs, before losing to Motherwell in the final, meaning they would have to try again.

    Stuart McCall was in charge by that point, and the former Scotland midfielder was able to get the job done in 2015-16, finishing 11 points ahead of second-placed Falkirk.

    For the first time in four years, Rangers were back at the top table in Scotland, but this was always going to be the biggest leap. Their first Old Firm derby back in the top flight ended in a 5-1 drubbing by Celtic.

    During the winter break, Rangers had played RB Leipzig in a friendly, losing 4-0 to the German side, which was perhaps a prophetic sign of how far they would need to rise to get back to where they felt they belonged.

    Rangers finished third in their first two seasons back in the Premiership and decided to bring in a big name to try and force their way into the title picture. Steven Gerrard.

    The former Liverpool star was new to management but was able to secure second place in 2018-19, though also back in Europe, Rangers were unable to get out of the Europa League group stage.

    They made it to the round of 16 the following season before going out to Bayer Leverkusen, and despite putting up more of a fight in the league, a wobble in the second half of the campaign saw Celtic claim their ninth consecutive title.

    Rangers fans everywhere wanted Gerrard to do everything he could to stop their great rivals from making it 10 in a row, and despite none of them being able to witness it thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Gerrard and his players did just that.

    They had done it emphatically as well, going undefeated and collecting 102 points to win the Premiership, averaging 2.42 goals for per game, and just 0.34 goals against across their 38 league matches.

    Full circle

    It felt like Rangers were ready to take the next step, and many assumed that was by getting back into the group stage of the Champions League in 2021-22.

    However, those plans were scuppered as they were beaten home and away by Malmo in qualifying, so back to the Europa League it was.

    After losing their first two group games to Lyon and Sparta Prague without scoring, few will have had any hopes about making it to the knockout round playoffs, let alone where they ended up.

    Home wins against Brondby and Sparta as well as away draws with Brondby and Lyon saw them advance a point ahead of the Czech side, though they were given a daunting tie against Borussia Dortmund.

    On top of that, Gerrard had left for Aston Villa in November, with former player Giovanni van Bronckhorst taking over.

    A stunning effort in Signal Iduna Park saw them win 4-2, before completing the job with a 2-2 draw back at Ibrox.

    Hard-fought aggregate victories against Red Star Belgrade and Braga sent them to the semi-finals, and a date with more Bundesliga opposition, the very same they had lost convincingly to in that 2017 friendly.

    Leipzig will have been wondering how they only won 1-0 at Red Bull Arena in the first leg, but Ibrox was a different matter, with a raucous crowd again cheering Rangers to a famous 3-1 win, and their first European final since 2008.

    The second leg came nine years and one day after beating Berwick Rangers 1-0 at Ibrox in their final game in the third division.

    It has been quite a ride since Manchester in 2008. Whatever happens in Seville, it is not always about the destination. It's about the journey.

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