By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press
Kyrie Irving flew halfway around the world to play for 66 seconds.
Irving aggravated his facial fracture shortly after tip-off in his preseason debut for the Brooklyn Nets, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers 114-111 in the debut of this year’s two-game NBA China Games series on Thursday in Shanghai.
Spencer Dinwiddie, who replaced Irving, led the Nets with 20 points and Taurean Prince finished with 18 for Brooklyn.
LeBron James scored 20 points for the Lakers, who got 18 from Rajon Rondo and 16 from Anthony Davis.
The game was normal, unlike the rest of the trip to China.
The game was played after several events to promote the NBA’s annual appearance in China were called off. It was part of the rift between China’s government and the league — started by a since-deleted tweet from Houston general manager Daryl Morey that supported anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
The U.S. and Chinese national anthems were not played before the game. All media events Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Arena — including pregame availabilities, postgame news conferences and a long-scheduled media session with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver — were canceled.
But fans came in droves, nearly every seat in the 18,000-seat arena appeared filled and they cheered for James loudest of all — as usual. James has made almost-annual visits to China during his NBA career to promote the game and his personal brand, and his popularity there is enormous.
Given fan reaction to James there this week, including being mobbed by well-wishers who chanted and snapped countless pictures with their phones as he walked through a Shanghai mall on Wednesday, not even the politically charged unrest between China and the NBA could dampen how revered he is in the world’s most populous country.
It was a topic again in Tokyo on Thursday, where Houston and Toronto finished their two-game series. The Rockets, of course, have been at the forefront of the rift between China and the league because of Morey’s tweet.
“You know what? It’s a tough situation,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after Houston’s 118-111 win over the reigning NBA champion Raptors. “Very difficult. Adam Silver speaks for the NBA. I work for the NBA. I go with Adam. Commissioner Silver will do the right thing.”
Irving tried to play through his left-side facial fracture, an injury that occurred in a pickup game last month. He was wearing a clear mask in an effort to protect his face, but bumped into Rondo while playing defense just 1:06 into the contest.
Irving’s face made contact with Rondo’s upper arm. The Nets guard immediately winced in pain, took the mask off and motioned to the bench that he needed a substitute.
If that wasn’t concern enough, the Nets lost their other starting guard just 22 seconds later. Caris LeVert left with 10:32 remaining in the first quarter after being poked in the eye and didn’t return.
James made 7 of 15 shots, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range and added six rebounds in 24 1/2 minutes. The Lakers and Nets play again Saturday in Shenzhen, China.
There are five games later Thursday (Friday, PHL time): Oklahoma City plays host to the New Zealand Breakers, Portland hosts Maccabi Haifa, Phoenix is at Sacramento, Minnesota goes to Golden State and Denver visits the Los Angeles Clippers.
ROCKETS 118, RAPTORS 111
In Tokyo, Russell Westbrook and James Harden each scored 22 points to lead Houston.
Neither of the Rockets’ starting guards shot particularly well — combined, they were 13 of 33 from the field and 4 for 19 from 3-point range — and Harden missed his last six 3-point attempts. But the Rockets started fast, getting out to a 22-8 lead, and then overcame a 13-point second-half deficit after both sides pulled most of their starters.
And the fans — more than 20,000 in Tokyo — loved what they saw from the former MVPs, regaling them both with “M-V-P” chants.
“It feels great anytime you hear those chants. Both of us have accomplished that unbelievable goal, being MVP,” Harden said. “I think the reason that we’re here together is to accomplish something bigger than that. Obviously, it’s going to take time but we’re in the right direction, right steps. We have a long season ahead of us and I think we’re all excited for it.”
Eric Gordon scored 14 points for Houston.
Norman Powell scored 22 for Toronto, which got 16 points from Pascal Siakam and a 10-point, 10-assist double-double from Fred VanVleet.