Getting Patty Mills in free agency was a big offseason win for the Brooklyn Nets and the veteran guard has been asked for and delivered even more than what was expected over the season’s first 19 games.
Long one of the NBA’s premier guards off the bench, Mills thrived in a third-guard role for a decade in San Antonio, and that role became a bit more vital from the start of the season with the absence of Kyrie Irving. But over the last five games, Mills has moved into the starting lineup with Joe Harris out with an ankle sprain and helped keep the Nets rolling.
With Wednesday night’s 123-104 win in Boston over the Celtics, the Nets have won four straight games and seven out of eight while moving into first place in the Eastern Conference with a 14-5 record.
“Patty was unbelievable tonight and he’s just been so big for us this year,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “His spirit is incredible. His IQ and experience are amazing as well. Just the shot-making is elite. He does so many things for us and that kind of ties the whole thing together.”
“A sparkplug, somebody that can create so much movement off the ball,” said Kevin Durant. “You hear a lot about gravity in our game, 3-point shot, and he has a lot of gravity at that 3-point line when you come off a pindown and somebody's rushing at him. He can drive and create so much chaos. So you know we're excited that Patty has done a good job as a bench player, and then come in as a starter too, and keep the same energy. I think that this shows how professional he is and he's always ready, always into the game and intense. So we feed off him a lot.”
Against the Celtics on Wednesday, Mills had 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range. It was the third time this season — and second in the last six games — that Mills made seven 3-pointers in a game after having done so three times in the whole of his 12-year career entering the season.
It extended an absolutely scorching streak that began the night that Harris sprained his ankle in Oklahoma City back on Nov. 14. Mills broke out for career highs of 29 points and nine 3-pointers made against the Thunder, then moved into the starting lineup when the Nets returned home to Brooklyn.
Over the last six games, Mills has averaged an even 20.0 points while shooting the same 58.9 percent both overall and from 3-point range, making an incredible 33-of-56 3-point attempts.
“Maybe there’s more minutes with Joe out. We need his shooting,” said Nash. “But he’s just such a professional. His mentality and the way he works and the way he gives to the group is unbelievable. He’s such a giver in that respect and he deserves his shots to go in and he’s got the guts to go to shoot them in tight moments as well. He just brings a ton to the table for us outside of the shooting.”
Mills began the season with some hot shooting, making all seven of his 3-point attempts in his Brooklyn debut in the season-opener and going on to make his first 10 threes of the season. He entered Wednesday night’s game third in the NBA in 3-point percentage — though having attempted three times as many 3-pointers as either of the two players ranked ahead of him — and by the end of the night he was up over 50 percent for the season at 51.9 percent.
“Settling in, I think,” said Mills. “I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that. Understanding what’s needed from me, I think. Staying ready, being ready and know the ball’s going to come flying at me at some point. I think staying aggressive, with that aggressive mindset, at the end of the day, will loosen up Kevin and James (Harden). I think, that doesn’t just go for me, that goes for everyone down the line.”