The Cavaliers graciously recognized Kyrie Irving in Wednesday night's game -- and the Nets star paid it forward after Brooklyn was felled in double overtime thanks to the heroics of Cleveland standout Collin Sexton.
The wild contest marked Irving's return from a seven-game absence due to personal reasons and later a league-imposed quarantine, after it was revealed he had not worn a mask at an indoor family gathering during his sabbatical.
It also marked only his second game in Cleveland as a visiting player since he was traded away by the Cavs, the team that drafted him first overall in 2011, following the 2016-17 season.
The Cavs honored their former star with a brief video tribute during the game's first timeout. The clip, played on the jumbotron at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, featured a montage of Irving's highlights in Cleveland.
The 28-year-old, who acknowledged the limited-capacity crowd during pregame introductions, paused during the video tribute to again signal toward the sparsely attended audience. He pointed to his ring finger, in an apparent acknowledgement of the NBA title he won there alongside LeBron James.
Irving was relatively sharp in his return, pouring in 37 points on 15-of-28 shooting, with three assists and four turnovers.
He and the Nets were outdueled, however, by Cavs star Collin Sexton, who scored 42 points of his own, while shooting 55% from the field.
“I was smiling when Collin Sexton was hitting all those shots, man," Irving told reporters after the game. "I gotta give Collin credit."
“You gotta tip your hat to him - he got hot," Nets star Kevin Durant said.
The game also marked the first time the Nets' newly formed superstar trio of Irving, Durant and James Harden were all on the floor together.
Each of them had nice stat lines by game's end, but chemistry issues were apparent.
This night belonged to Sexton.