The debate over whether Caris LeVert represents the Nets’ "third star" alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is sure to rage all season, but coach Steve Nash’s use of LeVert off the bench to keep the ball in his hands with a talented second unit paid immediate dividends in the Nets’ season-opening 125-99 rout of Golden State Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
While Irving scored 26 points and Durant added 22 with the starters, LeVert was third-leading scorer with 20 points. All three played 25 minutes, and LeVert also had nine rebounds and a team-high five assists and was plus-18 with a bench unit that scored 54 points. He entered with a 15-point first-quarter lead and pushed it to 21, and when he entered in the third period, the lead expanded to 35 on a LeVert three-pointer and reached 38 in the fourth quarter while he was playing.
Asked if he senses how big his role might become, LeVert said, "For sure. I try to take on the challenge and lead the second unit. If we’re up five, trying to push that lead to 10 or push it to 15, make our mark on the defensive end. In the second group, we all know we can play, we all know we can impose our will on the game just like the first group can. So, we try to give energy where it’s needed, and I think we did that."
The play of LeVert and the Nets’ bench will be a vital component for any potential championship run. It was just a shame there were no fans in the building to enjoy the show.
"I’m sure with fans, it would have been a crazy atmosphere, especially with KD playing against his old team," LeVert said. "But I feel like we came out and handled business. Even though we didn’t have fans, we created our own energy tonight. That’s what we’re going to need all year long."