Game 1 of the Caris LeVert sixth man initiative went according to plan for the Brooklyn Nets.
With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back in the lineup, the mission was to maximize the minutes LeVert could play in the lead role in which he excelled during the NBA restart in Orlando last summer. His big finish over the summer was part of averaging 24.3 points and 5.7 assists over the final 22 games of the 2019-20 season going back to February.
So during the preseason, coach Steve Nash floated the idea of bringing LeVert off the bench, comparing his role and potential impact to that of Manu Ginobili on championship teams in San Antonio with the Spurs.
And that looks like the direction Brooklyn will roll with LeVert. He finished with 20 points in the 125-99 opening night win over Golden State, making 3-of-5 3-pointers and adding nine rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
LeVert played 25 minutes, primarily in a lead role with the second unit, but also slotting in with Durant, Irving and the starting group. He was ball-dominant with the second group, putting up a usage rate of 34.9 for the game, Brooklyn’s highest.
“For me, try to take on the challenge and try to lead the second unit,” said LeVert. “If we’re up five, try to push that lead to 10, push it to 15, make them work on the defensive end. I feel like we all, in the second group, we all know that we can play, we all know that we can impose our will on the game, just like the first group can. So we try to come in and give energy where it’s needed. I think we did that today.”
BACK ON CHRISTMAS DAY
When the Nets tip off at 5:00 p.m. against the Boston Celtics on Friday, they’ll be part of NBA’s 73rd slate of Christmas Day games, dating back to 1947, while making their first appearance since 2013.
This will be the Nets’ 10th Christmas Day appearance, with the first coming in 1979, which also tipped off a run of six straight Christmas Day games for the franchise.
Nets coach Steve Nash was playing for the Phoenix Suns when the NBA expanded its Christmas slate to five games in 2008 and played in four Christmas Day games with Phoenix — including his rookie year in 1996 — one with Dallas, and one with the Lakers.
“I can’t remember any of my Christmas day games. I think I was a part of a bunch of them but I don’t really remember any of them,” said Nash. “It is special. It’s Christmas! I think everyone realizes that Christmas is a big day for the NBA, I think it’s five games on national TV. To be able to play in one of those featured games is a special moment and something that I think for our guys, they grew up watching games on Christmas Day. To be out there, it’s not lost on them that it’s a special occasion.”
Nash’s last Christmas Day game was in 2012, while with the Lakers, who with their appearance this year will be playing in their 22nd consecutive Christmas Day game, also known as a Dinwiddie family tradition.
“As a basketball player, you grow up watching this game,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “Was a Lakers fan growing up, so obviously they were always on every Christmas. It’s like a family tradition. So playing on Christmas Day, it’s going to be fun. I wish I could be with my family too, but at the same time with COVID and everything, it’s just going to be fun to be out there and having that fresh experience.”
A few other Nets Christmas Day notes:
- Kyrie Irving holds the NBA record for steals in a Christmas Day game, with seven in 2016
- DeAndre Jordan holds the NBA record for blocks in a Christmas Day game, with eight in 2011
- Kevin Durant has the fifth most career points on Christmas Day (270) and will likely pass Shaquille O’Neal (272) on Friday
- The Nets are 4-5 on Christmas Day
- Micheal Ray Richardson holds the Nets Christmas Day record with 36 points in 1984
- Buck Williams holds the Nets Christmas Day record with 18 rebounds in 1983
- Jason Kidd holds the Nets Christmas Day record with 11 assists in 2002
EMPTY ARENAS, FOR REAL
They played on the NBA Campus in Orlando, and then they played two preseason games in Brooklyn and Boston, but on Tuesday the Nets played their first game that counted in an empty NBA arena. It was a night that begged for an audience, with Kevin Durant making his Nets debut, and teaming with Kyrie Irving for the first time as Brooklyn blitzed the Warriors. In any other season opener, Barclays Center would have been cooking, figured Caris LeVert.
“I think in the bubble, it’s hard to say we got used to it, because I’ve been playing with fans my whole life,” said LeVert, “but it’s kind of a little more familiar to me now, playing all those games in the bubble with no fans, but it’s a little different of a feel playing in a full, empty arena, because in the bubble it was a little different, with the arena not being as big as maybe Barclays or when we went to the Boston Garden, it just feels a little more empty. But at the end of the day, it’s basketball. We’ve got to go out there and do our job, regardless.”
For the foreseeable future, home court advantage — such as it is — will come down to, as Spencer Dinwiddie described, the chance to stick to a regular routine, and sleep at home rather than be traveling.
“I think Barclays does a good job just trying to make it as comparable of an atmosphere as possible,” said Joe Harris. “It’s definitely not the same by any means. We certainly miss the fans and the energy that they bring, but they do a good job pumping in sound. There’s little stuff even where we miss a shot and they sort of have the sound effects saying ‘Aww’ and then vice-versa on the other end. It’s a little thing but that in itself is a little different from the bubble where it was really just sort of consistent across the board.”
ABOUT THE CELTICS
Boston opened up the season with a 122-121 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday night, courtesy of Jayson Tatum’s banked-in 3-pointer in the final seconds. The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward as a free agent, and they’ll be without Kemba Walker for a while due to knee troubles, but they added Kyrie Irving’s old Cleveland teammate, Tristan Thompson, to shore up the frontcourt. Tatum had 30 points and seven rebounds against the Bucks with six 3-pointers, and Jaylen Brown had 33, five rebounds, and four assists. Veteran point guard Jeff Teague is another new addition and he had 19 points while making 4-of-4 3-pointers in Boston’s opener.