On Saturday, Kessler Edwards and Day’ron Sharpe were logging major minutes for the Long Island Nets in an NBA G League win at Nassau Coliseum. On Tuesday, they were in the middle of an improbable Brooklyn Nets win at Barclays Center.
With multiple players in health and safety protocols as the Nets took on the Toronto Raptors in Brooklyn, the rookie contingent of Edwards, Sharpe, David Duke Jr., and Cam Thomas made up half of the eight available players for Brooklyn. While Thomas has been a regular part of the rotation since Thanksgiving, Duke, Edwards, and Sharpe had played a combined total of 79 minutes over 12 career NBA games before tip-off.
“Our attitude was let's pump these guys up, let's show them we're gonna have a great time tonight regardless of who's in the lineup and who's not, and we have belief and confidence in you guys and we want you to have a blast out there and compete and leave it all out there,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “So that's kind of where we put our focus, rather than what's happening, who's going to be in or out. Let's just make sure this is a positive approach and a spirited approach and we give them belief.”
The payoff was huge as Edwards and Duke both delivered double-doubles in a twisty, electrifying 131-129 overtime win. The Nets poured in a stunning 66 first-half points — matching their highest scoring half of the season — before falling behind by 11 as Toronto dominated the third quarter. But Patty Mills sent the game to OT with a 3-pointer with 13.1 seconds remaining and the Nets held on for the overtime win.
This was more than a kids show, obviously. Mills scored 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, making seven 3-pointers. Kevin Durant had a triple-double with 34 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. Blake Griffin returned to the starting lineup with 13 points and six rebounds. Nic Claxton had 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds in 26 minutes.
“We saw an opportunity for us to grow and get better, especially the younger guys who haven't played a lot of meaningful games in the NBA, especially against a championship organization like Toronto was an amazing test for us,” said Durant. “And I like how we responded throughout the whole game – hitting them first, and taking their punch, 44-25 in the third, then turning it up in the fourth quarter and overtime, man ... I'm so proud to just be a part of this group and play with these young dudes and man it was amazing to be out there.”
The 44th overall pick in the NBA Draft last summer, Edwards had appeared in just two NBA games for a total of 11 minutes before Tuesday night. He went 44 minutes against Toronto, including all of the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting — including 3-of-6 from 3-point range — with 10 rebounds and two steals. Edwards had nine points in the fourth quarter as the Nets wiped out a nine-point deficit at the beginning of the quarter and forced overtime.
“He was outstanding obviously, 17 and 10, two steals, two assists, three 3s,” said Nash. “He started the game and he didn’t run in for a dunk, he gave up an offensive rebound, and we just told him, play, be aggressive, have fun out there. You’re a good player. Show it. And man, he responded, so really proud of him and all these guys.”
Duke finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds in 38 minutes, making his first career start and playing all 17 minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime. The undrafted rookie had been dealing with a hip injury for much of the season and played just one game for Long Island in the G League — the team’s opener on Nov. 6 — before making his NBA debut last week in Houston. Duke had six of Brooklyn’s season-high 19 offensive rebounds as the Nets matched a season-high with 25 second-chance points.
“He does a lot of things on the basketball floor,” said Nash. “He's a physical, athletic, strong defender. Like you saw you can get his hands on the ball, deflections, steals, offensive rebounds. He's also a pretty good playmaker. He can get in the paint and make good decisions. So he does a lot of things. We've always liked him and we see a great future for him. But to see him get out there tonight in his first kind of extended action — or second I guess, with the Houston game, but tonight was really extended — and to see him respond that way was obviously kind of reinforcing what we what we see as an organization.”
Sharpe had seven points and seven rebounds in 13 minutes. Thomas, after three straight double-figure scoring games, finished with four points. For significant stretches, such as the first six minutes of the second quarter, Nash had all four rookies rolling together as a unit with either Mills or Durant. While their combined NBA time was limited coming in, the rookie group has been logging time together since the summer.
“Those are guys that I’ve played with since Summer League, training camp, even in Long Island a little bit,” said Edwards. “I think we know each other pretty well and it’s easy when you’ve got KD out there leading us.”
“You had Kess making big plays and Duke getting in the paint, he done a great job defensively all game, DayDay coming in and bringing that energy on both ends of the court,” said Mills. “Just super proud of these guys are in position throughout the course of the year where they're here with us but they don't get to play a lot, they go back down to Long Island and get to have a lot of game reps. So, you know, I think if anything, this was one of those games for them it was a rewarding effort, rewarding win for them knowing that they put in so much work behind the scenes that no one sees. So for them to come out and make an impact and be a part of a winning game, a winning NBA game, man, I couldn't be more proud of them. It was really satisfying to see.”