Caris LeVert Makes His Brooklyn Nets Return
Guard scores 11 points with five steals in first game back
There was just over a minute gone in the second quarter at Barclays Center Friday night when Nets fans got the moment they had been waiting for: Caris LeVert, back on the court in a Brooklyn uniform.
Three months gone from that night in Minnesota on Nov. 12 when LeVert crashed to the court with an injury that looked so much worse at first glance. As LeVert was attended to, his teammates looked stricken. The arena went silent, and a night like Friday -- LeVert sprinting, stealing, driving to the rim -- looked very far away indeed.
The injury -- a right foot dislocation -- required no surgery and left LeVert in position to return with plenty of season remaining.
“It almost didn’t feel real," said LeVert of his return. "It went by kind of fast for me honestly, and even leading up to today’s game it just felt that three months went by kind of fast. But like I said the first couple minutes I was kind of getting my feet wet, getting back into it, but then after that I felt like I was more comfortable.”
After two full practices this week -- one with the Long Island Nets -- LeVert was ready to go against the Bulls on Friday night. Coach Kenny Atkinson's message to LeVert was to enjoy being back on the court, playing, working up a sweat.
His other message was patience. Similar to when the Nets have brought other players back from injuries, whether it was Allen Crabbe on Wednesday or DeMarre Carroll earlier this season, the Nets were not doing to overdo it with LeVert out of the gate.
"I think we take it bit by bit and see where he is, see where his rhythm is," said Atkinson before the game. "I think it’s going to be a little bit of a learning process for all of us to see how quickly he gets rhythm back. But we’re not going to force it, I’m going to tell you that. I think I’m going to be smart about it. It’s going to be a lot of communication between me, the performance team, him, because we have to look at it and say we want good Caris LeVert, a great Caris LeVert long-term.”
So LeVert's return began with six second-quarter minutes, during which he quickly racked up four steals.
"I feel like a lot of them I was just in good position," said LeVert. "They kind of just threw me the ball. A couple of them I gambled and it turned out the right way."
He came back out to start the fourth quarter with the Nets down by 93-80, and the Bulls had pushed that lead to 16 points when LeVert asserted himself. He scored seven straight points off drives to the rim to jump-start an 11-2 run that got Brooklyn within nine points with 5:30 to play.
But the Bulls came out of a timeout with a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a Jarrett Allen dunk and rolled off a 14-4 run that locked things down. The 125-106 loss to the 13-42 Bulls was a disappointment, but Atkinson called LeVert the highlight of the evening.
"I thought he looked good, looked athletic, he was athletic, came downhill like he does, make some passes," said Atkinson. "Obviously there were a few bumps here and there, but for the most part I think he was a plus-five on the sheet, so he had some positives tonight and played well.”
LeVert ended up playing 15 minutes and finishing with 11 points, five steals and four assists while shooting 5-for-11.
While LeVert's return was welcome for the fans, he hasn't been a stranger to his teammates during his rehab and road back to action.
"The guy's the ultimate gym rat," said Atkinson before the game. "So he just hangs around the gym. He's one of those guys when you're at the playground, even if he's not playing, he's still on the sidelines, watching the games until the sun goes down. He was there yesterday just kind of hanging around. It was like, 'don't you have somewhere to go?'
"He just loves the game. He loves the game, he loves being around the game, he loves talking the game, talking to assistant coaches, talking to players. I think a guy like that, there's guys that have passion for the game, then there's guys that are obsessed with the game. He's obsessed with the game. This is a celebration that he's back. I think we're all excited and I'm sure the fans will be excited to see him."