PHILADELPHIA — The Nets’ Game 1 victory in their first-round playoff series with the 76ers was especially meaningful to Caris LeVert, who showed that he is all the way back from a right ankle dislocation that forced him to miss 42 games.
He scored 23 points and shot 8-for-18, including 3-for-3 from three-point range.
“It was big, especially because we got the win,” LeVert said. “I said all along I wasn’t really too worried about my offense. I knew it would come. My teammates have been confident in me every step of the way, telling me to keep going, and that’s all you can ask for.”
The 76ers have struggled all season to contain the Nets’ combination of guards D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and LeVert, and that is sure to be their focus in Game 2 on Monday night at Wells Fargo Center.
Having an effective LeVert in the mix the way he was at the start of the season is vital.
“Caris is the X factor,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said Sunday before practice at Temple University. “Now you bring a third ballhandler into the mix. You’ve got three guys that can cause damage. That’s tough to defend.”
After returning Feb. 8, LeVert struggled to regain his form for nearly two months. Jared Dudley asked Atkinson to play him with LeVert so he could set screens for him and get him more touches.
“That was a devastating injury he had,” Dudley said. “The mentality he had to have to come back, credit him for getting extra work and staying with it. You can see his confidence breathe. We give him the ball in open space and we’ve got to find the right mismatches.”
LeVert knows Game 2 will be tougher, but when asked if he can take the 76ers’ defenders off the dribble at will, he said: “I think so, especially in the second unit. There’s a lot of matchups we like to exploit.”