There are comebacks.
And there are COMEBACKS
And there's Ryan Kelly, whose first-game back was so good that future generations might refer to a great comeback as a Kelly.
Playing in his first game since January 8, Kelly scored a career-high 36 points to key Duke to a pulsating 79-76 victory over fifth-ranked Miami.
It was a classic ACC matchup between the league's two best teams, two veteran teams that could not only meet again in Greensboro but pretty deep in the NCAA Tournament. Miami was tough, poised, dominant on the boards, dead-eye from the foul line.
And still lost.
Kelly was a major reason why. Kelly warmed up at Virginia and told Mike Krzyzewski he felt good. Krzyzewski said he wasn't comfortable playing Kelly when he hadn't even been able to practice. Kelly went through about half of Friday's abbreviated practice and told Duke "I was ready to go, so let's go for it."
That wasn't the only backstory. Duke was trying to recover from a tough loss Thursday night at Virginia, trying to avenge a humiliating loss at Miami back in January and trying to maintain a perfect home record in front of a roaring, sell-out crowd that gave up cute and clever for volume and passion.
It took Kelly a couple of minutes to end his two-month scoring drought, burying a three to put Duke up 5-4.
Duke wouldn't again for a long time. Miami has lots of weapons, three-point shooters, slashers and rebounders. When Miami spreads the floor and Shane Larkin and Durand Scott get to the rim, it can seem like a lay-up drill.
Miami's biggest lead was at 27-20, with 6:34 left in the half. But with two chances to extend that lead, Miami had a turnover and Mason Plumlee blocked a Reggie Johnson dunk-attempt.
You may recall Johnson torching Duke for 27 points in Cameron last season. Duke held him scoreless this time.
So, Duke stymied that part of Miami's offense.
Every Duke player not named Ryan Kelly went 0-6 on three-pointers in the first half. But Kelly went 5-7 bringing Duke back every time Miami seemed poised to get some real separation. A Kelly three tied the game at 31 and Duke regained the lead on a Cook lay-up.
But Miami closed the half on a 5-1 run, with Duke missing two shots in the final five seconds.
The visitors lead 36-34 at intermission, with Kelly having scored 20 of Duke's points.
The second half was two heavyweights going at it. The game was tied six times in the first nine minutes, with neither team leading by more than a possession. There was a period when Miami absolutely mauled Duke on its offensive boards.
Duke got a tiny bit of breathing room once they started grabbing some defensive rebounds. Miami's last lead was at 56-55, midway through the second half. Kelly erased that with a three-pointer, then Plumlee scored inside. Shane Larkin cut the lead back to one with a three-pointer but Kelly answered with one of his own.
Rasheed Sulaimon struggled offensively much of the game. But he scored in traffic to make the score 70-65, then converted a steal into another lay-up.
"I just read the defense, especially on that steal," he said. "When I got it, I just wanted to make a play. We needed that boost late in the game."
Sulaimon was fouled on that play but missed the foul shot. It didn't seem to matter much when Quinn Cook's three-pointer put Duke up 75-65, with 1:55 left.
But Miami is a team that doesn't go away. They played the last few minutes about as well as a team could under those circumstances, getting good shots without burning much clock, while not allowing Duke to use the clock on its end. The final two minutes took an eternity, with Miami methodically crawling back.
Larkin deserves much of the credit. Krzyzewski called Larkin "the best guard by far in the league. He's magical out there." Larkin scored 19 second-half points, including a three-pointer that made it 76-70 and a free-throw that made it 78-76; he missed the first.
But Duke aided the comeback by missing five foul shots in the final two minutes, including a miss by the usually reliable Seth Curry with 20 seconds left that left the door open. Duke forced Larkin out of his comfort zone and he missed. Miami grabbed yet another offensive rebound but Rion Brown's desperation three-pointer at the buzzer came up empty.
Mason Plumlee described those frantic final seconds. "We were just running out to the three-point line, because we knew a three would tie it. I just didn't want to foul because that's the worst thing you can do. That's the only way they can win. You just want to play smart but try not to let them get a three."
An exhausted but pleased Ryan Kelly held court after the game. "I don't have much energy left. I just wanted to win. I was tired at times out there but I just let myself do it. They were going in. It happens sometimes."
Sulaimon was less matter-of-fact. "He lifted us throughout this game. Without Ryan Kelly that would have been a different game. That just shows the great talent that he is. He hasn't played and hasn't practiced in two months and comes back and has 36. The kid is unbelievable."
Mason Plumlee says the pieces are in place. "At this point in this season, we're just trying to get better. We have to get hot going into the tournament. You want to be peaking in mid-March and that's where we're going to head getting Ryan back."
Kelly was well on his way to becoming the 63rd Duke player to hit the 1000-point mark. His 36 points gives him 890. Duke has a minimum of four remaining games, a maximum of 11. You can do the math.
Kelly added seven rebounds for Duke, while Quinn Cook scored 15 points, with five assists. Plumlee had 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal.
Larkin led Miami with 25 points. Kenny Kadji had 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Miami outrebounded Duke 40-27. Each team had 10 turnovers. Duke made 12-23 from downtown, with Kelly ending 7-9. Miami only made 6-21 from beyond the arc.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga says he turned to his assistants after one of Kelly's threes and said "that guy's unconscious." He added that he thought his team did a good job defending Kelly, adding that Kelly's performance was "quite frankly, ridiculous."
Mike Krzyzewski called Kelly's game a "performance for the ages. Probably as good a performance by a Duke player ever in Cameron."
Even this jaded historian can't argue with that.