The Nets clinched a playoff berth with a surprising 3-2 record during the NBA restart before facing the powerful Clippers Sunday night at Disney World in Orlando, and one of the key ingredients to their success has been the play of their “Big Little Man” — 5-11 backup point guard Chris Chiozza.
As far back as March before the season was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chiozza provided a spark when he came off the bench in the fourth quarter at Boston and helped lead a shocking comeback victory in which his passing fueled Caris LeVert’s career-high 51-point explosion. Chiozza followed that up with three double-figures scoring games in the next four before the stoppage.
When starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie tested positive for COVID-19 and bowed out of the restart, Chiozza started the opening loss against the Magic and struggled in a two-point effort. But since coach Jacque Vaughn moved him to the second unit, “Cheese” is averaging 9.4 points and 5.4 assists in the restart, including his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in a shocking upset of the NBA-best Bucks.
Analyzing what has worked for the Nets, Garrett Temple said, “I think ‘Cheese’ has done a great job of pushing the pace. Caris did a great job of making sure he broke the defense down last game at the guard spot. So, with the first unit now, we don’t just have somebody like a Chiozza, that’s going to spread the floor, push the pace like that. Caris has a different type of pace that he plays with, but that can also put pressure on teams.
“We’re just sharing the ball. I heard Cheese say, ‘Getting good to great shots,’ and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re taking shots when we get them and shooting with confidence.”
In the clinching win over Sacramento, Chiozza teamed with Tyler Johnson on the second unit, and they each scored 14 points. “I think it’s a great combination — two guards that can pass and shoot pretty well,” Chiozza said after Sunday’s shootaround. “He’s a smart player so it’s easy to play with him. He knows how to move when I’ve got the ball, and I feel like we get each other a lot of open shots.”
During the first five of their eight seeding games, the Nets have hit the 30-assist mark three times, and Chiozza has been a major factor in that ball movement.
“We just try to share the ball as much as we can, not settle for good shots, we try to get great shots. Sometimes, that’s just making an extra pass. That leads to high percentages and more assists. We just try to make smart plays and make the easy, right play every time.”
That is exactly the style that has been emphasized by Vaughn, a former point guard himself, and it sounds as if Chiozza has gotten the message. The little point guard has turned a lot of heads with his speed and playmaking, including that of superstar Kevin Durant, who recently lauded Chiozza’s play, suggesting he has a future with the Nets.