For three sluggish quarters, it seemed inevitable that the Brooklyn Nets were about to extend a brutal four-game losing streak to five. After defeating Charlotte on February 22nd, the team spent the next two weeks traveling up and down the Atlantic Coast. either getting blown out or choking away a big lead or having a spirited comeback fall just short. And Tuesday night in Boston, down 84-67 going into the fourth, Kenny Atkinson seemed content to let some key rotation players rest up on the first night of a back to back.
Then, a lineup of Caris LeVert, DeAndre Jordan, and three guys whom TNT’s national audience had never heard of started to score without turning the ball over, something the Nets hadn’t been able to do all night. That lineup scored 48 points in the first 11:59 of the fourth quarter. And yet, their efforts still looked futile. The Nets, down three with a second left, had Caris LeVert with the ball, trapped in a sea of green jerseys facing the wrong basket. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Marcus Smart reached in on LeVert, who was awarded three free throws.
Did it matter that LeVert was only 6/10 from the line up to that point? Well, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article if it had. LeVert, the emblem of Brooklyn’s climb from the basement to the penthouse of the NBA, calmly sank all three shots.
It was over.
Okay, fine. The Nets and Celtics did still have overtime to play, but that was a formality. The Boston crowd that filled TD Garden with “Where is Kyrie?” chants minutes earlier fell into stunned silence. Brad Stevens could only stare into space. Jayson Tatum was wearing street clothes. Jaylen Brown, Boston’s best player all night, was out of the game after grabbing his hamstring. Marcus Smart, who posted 10 assists, fouled out just after OT tipped off.
LeVert, meanwhile, just kept cooking. He abused poor Carsen Edwards in the post with a Kobe-esque fadeaway. He flew by out-of-control Celtic closeouts. The indecision that’s plagued LeVert at times was nowhere to be found. He finished with 51 points, 18 free throws, and all 11 of Brooklyn’s OT points.
Boston, meanwhile, could only muster one bucket in the extra period, and somehow, someway, the Nets came away with a 129-120 victory.
There were plenty of storylines that could have defined this game. Chris Chiozza, the Nets most recent two-way contract signee, played his first real minutes for the big league squad. He played the game’s final twenty minutes and looked damn good doing so, understanding when to defer to LeVert’s hot hand, and when to create for himself. The unlikely wing duo of Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot and Rodions Kurucs also closed out the fourth quarter and OT, while rebounding, playing good defense, and making just enough plays on offense to keep Boston honest.
The negative storylines pale in comparison on a night like this, but they were there. Brooklyn’s offense was stuck in park for those first three quarters, seemingly relying far too much on their primary ball-handlers to make plays in the pick and roll game. Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, and Garrett Temple combined to shoot 1-14 from three. The starting 5 produced 14 turnovers.
Ultimately, this game wasn’t about any of those numbers. This was the Caris LeVert game, through and through. Yes, make sure to remember Chris Chiozza whipping one handing dimes all over the court. Remember the abundance of hustle plays from TLC and Kurucs too, and don’t discount DeAndre Jordan giving juuust enough effort on the inside to hold the fort. At the end of the day, though, LeVert put up 51 points on 65% shooting while dominating the game’s final stretches. And when one guy plays like that, he’s the story.
This comeback was eerily reminiscent of Brooklyn’s unforgettable win in Sacramento last March. That game turned around the Nets’ season, and propelled them to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Whether this game has a similar effect on this current squad remains to be seen, obviously. The nascent Grizzlies come to town not 24 hours after this win, and will play a game that’ll certainly require some of that #BrooklynGrit. But no matter what happens the rest of this season, Nets fans everywhere can exhale and admit one thing: Damn, that felt good.