BROOKLYN - Paul Pierce will never be mistaken for Wally Pipp. And Mirza Teletovic will never be confused with Lou Gehrig. But any New Yorker that claims to be a true metropolitan area sports fan knows the story of Pipp and Gehrig.
Pipp was the Yankees starting first base until he arrived at the stadium on June 2, 1925 with a searing headache. He sat. Gehrig played. It was the first of 2,130 consecutive games Gehrig would play.
That anecdote, more than any other, is perhaps the greatest example in sports history that any backup must be ready to take advantage of an opportunity. You never know when, or if, it will come. It came for Teletovic on Thursday.
When the Brooklyn Nets forward arrived at practice he was told to don a black jersey, which is worn by starters. Pierce was a little under the weather and sat out that day. Several times during that practice, Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd, called out a play and said, ‘Let’s get a shot for Mirza.’
“It told me he has confidence in me,’’ said Teletovic.
Kidd, and the rest of the Nets, have a lot more confidence in their 6-9 forward from Bosnia after he scored a career-high 34 points in the Nets 107-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks Friday night in Barclays Center.
It was the most points scored in the NBA this season by a non-starter and it helped the Nets win their seventh straight home game. The Nets, 9-1, since the start of the year, have surged to 19-22 and are closing in on the Toronto Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Pierce started at power forward and played a solid all around game. But Kidd has liked what he’s seen in Teletovic, liked the way he’s picked up his defense and knocked down shots in practice.
So when the Nets starters weren’t firing on all cylinders, Kidd went to Teletovic. He scored 24 points in the decisive second quarter in which the Nets outscored the Mavericks, 39-25.
Teletovic was 12-of-18 from the field including 7-of-11 from behind the arc.
“There’s a lot of open space,” said a humble Teletovic. “We have so many shooters, we have Joe (Johnson) standing in one corner, Paul (Pierce) standing in another corner, so they’re like, ‘OK, let’s leave the guy from Europe open, maybe he’s not going to make it.”
Teletovic made them. He became just the third Nets player ever to light up a 12-minute quarter for two dozen points. The others? Johnson and Vince Carter.
Welcome to the Club, Mr. Teletovic.
His final basket was the most important, and perhaps, the most sensational. With the shot clock running down he lofted a one-handed floater that dropped with 1:13 left, giving the Nets a 102-95 lead.
Teletovic, 28, always believed he was capable of playing in the NBA. He signed a three-year deal with the Nets in 2012 but rarely got a chance to play. Kidd, who won his NBA title playing with a great European player in Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks, doesn’t care if a player is from Bora Bora if he can play.
With the Nets going to the small-ball rotation after losing Brook Lopez for the season with a broken right foot, Teletovic can be a viable backup to Pierce at the stretch 4.
This is not a stretch: Teletovic is finally getting his chance and he’s making the most of it.
“It speaks a lot about him,” said point guard Deron Williams, who came off the bench and posted a double-double with 18 points and 11 assists. “He was definitely frustrated a lot last year with his lack of playing time.’’
“Mirza’s a competitor, and he’s been one of the top players in Europe for a long time. It was a little hit to his ego, and he felt like he could contribute and help, so he didn’t really get that opportunity.’’
“Now that he is, he’s making the most of it, and so I’m happy for him, and I know he’s happy to be playing and contributing the way he is.”