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Jared Dudley — Taking one for the team

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

As basketball fans, we don’t (necessarily) advocate fighting, but we also don’t discourage it. But when things get out of hand, why the heck not? If you ever played the game, you know that one little shove can tell you a whole lot about your team... and the guys on the other side as well.

The Nets and 76ers got into a scrum that carried into the baseline courtside seats Saturday, involving Joel Embiid, Jared Dudley, and Jimmy Butler; the latter two getting tossed in the process. It had started in Game 2, when Embiid delivered a Flagrant 1 foul on Jarrett Allen – a hard elbow straight into the face from one of the NBA’s strongest players.

After the game, Embiid and Ben Simmons laughed about it as Embiid attempted to apologize. Nets players, namely Dudley and Caris LeVert, voiced their displeasure, citing it as “disrespect.” And rightfully so.

Brooklyn was boiling. The series was headed back to Barclays, tied 1-1. Many thought a retaliation might take place in Game 3. After all, Embiid almost knocked Allen unconscious and Nets’ players weren’t too happy about it.

Not so fast.

Dudley sat out Game 3 with a sore calf and Ed Davis was limited due to a right ankle injury. The Nets couldn’t risk losing anybody with Simmons tearing it up. Embiid sat as well, his balky knee acting up again.

Then came Game 4. Dudley was back and so was Embiid. Moreover, the Nets needed a win to avoid a 3-1 deficit entering Wells Fargo Arena and facing a hostile Philadelphia crowd. It was also brewing as Dudley got chippy with Embiid and Simmons early on.

Dudley taunted Simmons after making a three in the second quarter.

It was a little less than some might have expected, but then you heard…

“CRACK”

Jarrett Allen was down again. Flagrant 1. Embiid whack.

Dudley, the 12-year veteran, came flying in from the other side of the court and gave Embiid a chest bump while getting in his face. Jimmy Butler, Simmons, and Dudley went into the courtside seats (as did ref, Ed Malloy) while D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert got in there to make sure Dudley was okay.

Kenny Atkinson yelled at Dudley, “We need you!” as the two walked back to the bench.

Dudley didn’t think his actions were worth the ejection. It is playoff basketball after all. In fact, he wished he had gotten a better lick in on Embiid if he had known the consequences.

”If anything, I would have gotten my money’s worth even more,” the unsmiling 33-year-old said after Game 4. “That push wasn’t even that bad.”

Embiid stayed true to his rep for trash talk, calling Dudley a “nobody” in a post-game interview.

”When opponents trying to do stuff like that, that’s just to get us out of the game,” he said on TNT. “I’m too valuable for my team.”

Dudley did his part, though. He helped get Butler, a notorious closer, ejected and tried to show the Nets aren’t a team that’s going to be punked. No, that’s not how they roll. That’s certainly not how Dudley rolls, especially when it’s his 20-year old teammate getting roughed up. You’d better know that if you want to try that stuff, over and over, you’ll have to run the gauntlet. The Nets will demand respect for their organization and for the progress they’ve made.

It was revenge served cold, as Mario Puzo wrote in the Godfather, which means when it’s least expected. Everybody expected a reaction in Game 3, but both Dudley and Embiid sat. In Game 4, with both back, Dudley struck when it was least expected... and opportunity arose.

“It’s just something that’s been escalating for a while. Game 2, the elbow… they’re in the press conference laughing. And then I see it like that, I thought it was a good push and that we’re not having it today,” Dudley said. “For sure I was sending a message, when a guy is getting flagrant fouls, I mean Joel Embiid is second in the league in flagrant fouls, so for that elbow to just have a flagrant 1, no fine, laughing in the media. If you think a team I play on is gonna have that, that’s another thing you have coming.”

“This [foul] happened to be from the same player, so for Jared Dudley to step in like that, I thought it was necessary,” said Russell. “We’re getting the bottom end of that, so for one of our players on the ground after every hard play like that, that’s not how it’s going to be. We see it from [our perspective] so we’re gonna handle it in our own ways.”

“I love that he did that,” said Allen. “I don’t think he needed to go to that extent, but I think Jared Dudley wanted to show that we’re here, we’re here to stay, and we’re not going to give up and we’re going to fight to the end.”

And as he exited the court, Dudley got a big high five from Sean Marks.

It should also be noted that this is not the first time Dudley has taken the initiative when a teammate has been wronged.

It’s a testament to Dudley’s character and importance to this young team. Considering their inexperience and the leadership the 12-year vet has brought to the team, Brooklyn would be wise to bring a player like Dudley back if they want to keep building the culture. You talk about a guy taking a bullet for his team, this was the perfect example.

Seven players in Brooklyn’s rotation have never stepped foot on a court during an NBA postseason game. Dudley’s always had a target on his back – the kind of guy you love having on your team and the kind of guy you hate playing against. He may not possess the offensive prowess he once did, but he still does things that can help winning teams.

He hasn’t always been popular with Nets fans...

He did try to make amends to Nets fans after he was traded to Brooklyn last July.

Indeed Dudley’s willingness to take the bullet – have a target on his back – is good for the young guys too. It alleviates pressure on the likes of Russell, Allen, LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and the rest of Brooklyn’s youth movement. They are after all the third youngest team in the playoffs. Allen only turned 21 Sunday!

The Nets are gonna hear it from Philly fans in Game 5, as the Sixers go for the “gentleman’s sweep” in round 1, but Dudley is the one who will hear it the most, not the kids. In the media, it’s Jared who has to “take the L” even though he was really doing what was best for his team.

Jared Dudley represents everything the Brooklyn Nets want to be. When D’Angelo Russell first came to Brooklyn, he told NetsDaily, “I want teams to hate [playing] us.” They’re a team built with a chip on their shoulder – from the coaching staff down across the roster. The Sixers, though ahead in this series, continue to find themselves in a first round dogfight.

Things like this make you appreciate what the Nets have done this season and what’s in store going forward. The season isn’t over yet, but it’s right on the brink – and that’s what makes this moral victory so bittersweet. Nobody expected the Nets to compete for a championship. Nobody will even reflect much on this when the offseason begins, whether that’s Tuesday night or some time after that.

It’s a bummer being on the brink of elimination, mainly because of the realization that this might be over. This special season in which the Brooklyn Nets officially took the jump, in dramatic fashion and in so many ways, could be coming to an end.

However, with the trajectory headed upwards and the Nets expected to land a big name free agent this summer, it’s a relief knowing that beyond the end of the season, bigger and better days are ahead for this organization.

When Dudley was traded to the Nets along with a 2021 second rounder in a salary dump back in July, there was some speculation he could be a buyout candidate. He wasn’t interested and apparently neither were the Nets. They knew what they had —and what they needed with such a young club— a guy who’s a veteran leader and, when necessary, will take one for the team.