What he delivered was one of the better games a Duke player has ever had in venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium.
He hadn't played for Duke since injuring his right foot on Jan. 8. Yet Kelly played and shot and rebounded and defended and scored and scored and scored.
His 36 points established a career high, tying for the most points an ACC player has scored this year. Because of that, No. 3 Duke beat No. 5 Miami 79-76 in an ACC basketball game filled with passion from beginning to end.
"We were all privileged to see one of the performances of the ages by Ryan Kelly," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Me saying spectacular or whatever doesn't do his performance justice. One for the ages. Probably as good a performance as any Duke player had had in Cameron."
Just six days earlier, Kelly said something "amazing" would have to happen for him to be ready to play prior to Tuesday's home game with Virginia Tech, which is Duke's senior night.
Something amazing did happen.
On Thursday morning, when the Blue Devils were having a pre-game shoot-around in Charlottesville, Va., Kelly told Krzyzewski his healed right foot felt "really good."
Krzyzewski had Kelly in uniform but didn't play him that night as Virginia beat Duke 73-68.
On Friday, as Duke (25-4, 12-4 in ACC) went through a truncated practice, Krzyzewski told the team that Kelly was ready to start again.
On Saturday, amazing things happened on a court that's seen its share of amazing things for nearly 75 years.
Kelly missed his first shot, a 3-pointer. But he missed little else the rest of the night.
The 6-11 senior forward made 10 of 14 shots overall, including 7 of 9 3-pointers.
"I thought we prepared for Ryan Kelly, but obviously not for that Ryan Kelly," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "He was sensational. For a young man who hasn't played in more than a month, hadn't shot the ball. He had been shooting incredibly well. ... It's hard to do when you're in the gym by yourself and you've got a guy just rebounding for you."
Kelly's hot hand allowed Duke to shoot 52 percent in the game. That's despite the fact that the rest of his teammates combined to make only 4 of 14 3-pointers.
But that's how well Kelly played in his reintroduction.
"I really didn't know (what to expect)," Kelly said. "I just knew I was going to play my hardest. Honestly, more than anything, it was just whether I was going to be able to hold up with my breathing. I hadn't played in quite a long time and being in a game is a lot different from practice or anything you can do. I think I held up alright."
No one would argue with that assessment.
Kelly's onslaught included 19 first-half points as he made five 3-pointers over the first 20 minutes. But he was Duke's lone double-figure scorer in the first half and Miami led 36-34 at intermission.
But the Hurricanes never led by more than three points the rest of the game. Miami's lead was 56-53 with 10:25 left when Kelly started a run that gave Duke the lead for good.
He drew a foul and sank two free throws. After a Durand Scott miss for Miami, Kelly drilled a 3-pointer for a 58-56 lead.
A Mason Plumlee hook shot with 8:44 left gave Duke a 60-56 lead.
Miami, behind 25 points from sophomore guard Shane Larkin, kept within striking distance. But Kelly had answers.
When Larkin nailed a 3-pointer to pull Miami within a point with 6:50 left, Kelly answered with a 3-pointer for Duke.
"I thought we closed out on him very well," Larranaga said. "One of the threes that he hit, I turned to my staff and said, ‘This guy's unconscious.' I mean, it was 30 feet. We would have liked to have guarded him better, but the problem with a player like him is that when he's shooting that well and we try to contest the shot harder, he drove to his right and got fouled and made the free throws. He had a great game.
Larkin scored with 4:40 to play, slicing Duke's lead to 65-63, but Kelly sank three of four free throws on Duke's next two possessions and the Blue Devils were up 68-63.
The rest of the Blue Devils took things from there.
Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon scored a couple of baskets on drives and mixed in a steal in between. When Quinn Cook, who scored 15 points for Duke, hit a 3-pointer with 1:55 left, the Blue Devils held a 75-65 lead over the same Miami team that had drilled them 90-63 in Coral Gables, Fla., on Jan. 23.
Cook even started slapping the floor on defense and his teammates joined in. Miami had angered the Blue Devils by doing the same, mocking Duke's tradition, during that blowout in Coral Gables.
But the Hurricanes weren't dead just yet.
While Kelly and Plumlee combined to make three of six free throws, Miami scored 10 points as Larkin and Trey McKinney-Jones hit 3-pointers.
After Cook stepped out of bounds in the backcourt, Larkin hit one of two free throws to leave Duke with a 78-76 lead with 53.6 seconds to play.
Plumlee's bad pass with 47 seconds left gave Miami the ball again. But Larkin's pass for Rion Brown was too high. The ball bounced off Brown's hands and Kelly grabbed it for a steal.
Duke's Seth Curry made one of twp free throws at 21 seconds, giving Duke a 79-76 lead, but Miami had two shots to tie.
Larkin's long 3-pointer from the top of the key bounced off and, after Brown's open 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer missed as well as Duke survived.
But it wouldn't have happened without Kelly coming back in such a big way.
"We could have let go there at the end," Kelly said. "We showed some poise and got the stop that counted."