Nets' Caris LeVert drives against Toronto Raptors' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson during...

Nets' Caris LeVert drives against Toronto Raptors' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson during the second quarter of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Credit: AP/Kevin C. Cox

The depleted Nets roster went into Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the defending NBA champion Raptors with only a few players who played major roles in their 4-1 first-round loss to the 76ers last year. Unfortunately for the Nets, one of those guys — Ronda Hollis-Jefferson — now is playing what coach Nick Nurse described as a “utility guy” role off the bench for the champs.

“I really wasn’t sure when we got him where he would fit in,” Nurse said. “He’s really not a perimeter shooter . . . but he’s just done a great job kind of maximizing that utility role. He makes a lot of hustle plays, gets a lot of extra possessions for us, and just because he can’t shoot doesn’t mean he can’t score. He’s got a nice game around the basket, a little low-post game, and he can pass out of there.

“He’s come a long way, and he’s a factor. He’s in the rotation, and we’re going to need him because he does bring a defensive element to his matchup.

The description sounds exactly like the heart-and-soul player Nets fans knew. Hollis-Jefferson doesn’t play the major role he did with the Nets, but he has earned 18.7 minutes per game while averaging 7.0 points and 4.7 rebounds during the regular season. He had six points and two rebounds in the Raptors’ 134-110 Game 1 victory on Monday and provided a defensive spark in the second period.

“It’s definitely been an experience,” Hollis-Jefferson said before the series opened. “I’ve always been someone who had to work hard and had to earn his keep. So, when I came here and had to work my way to earn minutes and get into the position that I’m in, I knew it wouldn’t be a cakewalk.”

Hollis-Jefferson said he remains in touch with Caris LeVert and Nets security chief Fred Holloway, and he likes what he has seen from them in the bubble. “They’re playing free, getting after it,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Caris is orchestrating the offense and doing his thing. Joe [Harris] is shooting the ball pretty well. I’m proud of those guys.”

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