Returning from a 42-game absence recovering from a dislocated right foot, Brooklyn Nets wing Caris LeVert was better than anyone could have anticipated.
The moment the Brooklyn Nets and their fans had waited nearly three months to see happened with 10:39 remaining in the first half Friday night at Barclays Center.
In uniform and available for the first time since dislocating his right foot on Nov. 12, Caris LeVert entered the game for the Nets to a standing ovation from his teammates and the 15,267 in attendance in Brooklyn.
LeVert played only 15 minutes in his return, with Nets coach Kenny Atkinson saying before the game the club was going to manage LeVert carefully.
LeVert’s return was a special moment, particularly given how gruesome his injury first appeared to be.
It was noticed by teammates and foes alike.
As for LeVert’s play, his offensive game took some time to start to percolate. He missed a layup attempt on a strong drive and misfired on a step-back 3 before getting his first make on a nice floater in the paint over Robin Lopez.
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LeVert played 6½ minutes in the second quarter, finishing with two points on 1-of-3 shooting, but handing out three assists and grabbing four steals.
He played at the 2 and 3 spots in the first half, but got some time at the point when he returned to the game to start the fourth quarter. He wound up playing 8½ minutes in the fourth and looked a lot more like his old self.
He was 4-for-8 and scored nine points in the period, with a rebound, an assist and another steal.
Most encouraging was that he was aggressive going to the rack, scoring all four of his buckets on five drive attempts. He showed his usual quickness and explosiveness getting to the rim and finishing through contact.
LeVert and the Nets didn’t get the storybook ending, absorbing a 125-106 loss to the Bulls.
But LeVert did some things, particularly defensively at the top of Brooklyn’s 2-3 zone, that could be big moving forward.
He had five steals in just 15 minutes, matching his career high and setting a new season-high for the Nets in the process. The previous high by the Nets had been four — once each by LeVert, D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll.
His length and quickness will make him a terror on one side of the Nets’ zone looks and he was effective in man-to-man defensive sets as well, not showing any ill effects at that end from his long layoff.
Offensively, it might take a bit of time for LeVert to get his touch and timing back, but his fourth-quarter performance was extremely encouraging.
If LeVert keeps playing like he did in that fourth quarter and looking as quick and explosive as he did, the Nets will be hard-pressed not to get him back into the starting unit with a regular minutes load quickly, perhaps as soon as after the All-Star break.