The fans at the Arena Ciudad de México expected a vintage Russell Westbrook performance, but were treated to a breakout night by second-year player Caris LeVert instead.
The 23-year-old got extended minutes due to Spencer Dinwiddie’s early foul trouble and responded with a career-highs in points (21) and assists (10) to lead the Nets to a win in their NBA Global Games opener. There’s been plenty of talk about Brooklyn’s future, especially after the team’s stunning acquisitions of Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas earlier in the day, and LeVert is showing why he can be vital part of it after back-to-back strong performances.
LeVert steps up in a big way
Levert marked the anniversary of his NBA debut with a night to remember.
When Spencer Dinwiddie picked up his fourth foul early in the second, there were reasons to be pessimistic of a Brooklyn win. The Nets are undermanned after the trade and team has struggled at times to facilitate offense without the fourth-year guard on the floor. Yet, it’s becoming increasingly clear that LeVert is growing in confidence at point guard.
The former Michigan star built off of his strong showing on Monday in the Nets win in Atlanta to respond with a career night. More impressively, the 23-year-old wasn’t fazed at all when he was matched up with Westbrook and went punch-for-punch on offense with the reigning MVP in the third quarter. He also helped in holding the Thunder star to a 10-for-27 shooting night.
Nets defense contains Thunder’s stars
Westbrook wasn’t the only player that struggled on Thursday. Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams were also listless as Brooklyn asserted itself in the second half.
The Nets struggled to run its high-speed offense in the first half, but that all changed after LeVert’s strong third quarter and Dinwiddie’s clutch fourth. A positive by-product of that is Brooklyn’s pace denied Oklahoma City the opportunity to run its heavy iso-based offense in the final two periods.
Melo was held to a woeful 5-for-20 night and the normally offensively-efficient Adams shot under 50 percent and had a -13 plus-minus rating. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll deserve plenty of praise for keeping Anthony off-rhythm in this game.
Hollis-Jefferson Shows Toughness
The third-year player had a scary moment in the second quarter as it appeared that he rolled his ankle. However, moments later, Hollis-Jefferson was back on the court and deserves plenty of credit for Thursday’s win. He helped the team rally from 16 behind and finished with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists along with the second-highest plus-minus of the team with +16.
Hollis-Jefferson is quietly having a strong season and like LeVert, appears to be gaining confidence in a new position as the natural small forward continues to improve at playing the four. Kenny Atkinson and his staff deserve plenty of credit for the strides made by both players this season.