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FILM STUDY: How Nets bottled up D’Angelo Russell in his last game as a Warrior

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Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors : NBA Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

So much for a quiet deadline, huh?

The lead-up to Thursday – the always anticipated trade deadline – was eerily quiet. Leads were cold, general managers appeared to be sitting on their hands. Perhaps, I thought, this is what it feels like to live in a world with true basketball parity. For years, I had chastised the league for its lack of competitive balance. But now, in this universe of fair play, one of the most exciting dates on the basketball calendar was suddenly… boring. The trade deadline seemed doomed for radio silence. Then...

Boom.

Bang!

And then last but most certainly not least…

KAH-POW!!!

As it turned out, D’Angelo Russell’s return to the Barclays Center would be his final 33 minutes in a Golden State jersey. While I, personally, am beyond enthused for D’Angelo in his new permanent home in the land of 10,000 lakes, I wanted to analyze his performance under a different lens.

Because let me just say something…

Brooklyn did a wonderful, wonderful job neutralizing their former All-Star point guard. On the night, Russell finished with just 17 points on 7-of-20 shooting. D’Angelo’s jump shot, which has been “holy smokes” reliable this season (37.4 percent from deep on a whopping 9.7 threes per game), failed to tag along after the short flight from Washington DC. Not to mention, Russell’s teammates might as well have been the Berenstein Bears; they certainly didn’t resemble, you know, actual NBA players.

However, from the moment the ball was tipped, it didn’t always appear to be a “meh”-inducing Russell performance. In the first seven minutes of play, Russell got himself going early, scoring 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting. In a hilarious turn of events with ghastly amounts of irony, Brooklyn’s one-time cornerstone player suddenly looked the part of the latest “Nets killer.” Russell, who eases into games by means of his midrange shot, received any 15-footer he desired against Brooklyn’s drop coverage system; it was a match made in fiery hell.

But then, something changed. The recently resurgent Caris LeVert took the matchup with his former teammate personally, dialing in that extra level to extinguish Russell’s flaming-hot hand.

For all the chatter about Caris LeVert’s resurrection as an offensive player (thanks to his suddenly zippy first-step!), it’s his defense that has truly stuck out during his last two performances. Coming off an excellent showing against Devin Booker on Monday, in which LeVert held Phoenix’s should-be All-Star to 0-of-4 shooting (per NBA’s matchup stats), the inklings of another impressive defensive performance were apparent early. Here, he fronts Russell near the arc, forcing the former Warrior away from Draymond Green’s handoff – to the point that D’Angelo nearly circles Green in hopeless pursuit of the ball. From there, Caris sticks with Russell on a curl, forcing the former All-Star into a tough baseline fader.

More LeVert face-guarding goodness. Here, Caris – who not long ago was becoming somewhat of an infamous meme for his poor screen navigation – squeezes his way around both of the Warrior picks on this double drag, keeping a hand on Russell’s hip. Of course, credit due to LeVert’s teammate, Jarrett Allen, who recognizes the possibility of an icy midrange attempt and lurches forward to tightly contest Russell’s skyscraping 15-footer.

During that same half, LeVert’s new (-ish) teammate, Wilson Chandler – who has been wildly exceptional amidst middling expectations during this recent stretch – did his part to deter Golden’s State best and, really, only good player during this transition possession. Notice how Russell leans into the body of Chandler, hoping for an ounce of contact. But alas, the wily vet Wilson keeps his hands raised – vertical as a board – and forces Russell into a wild shot.

Perhaps my favorite possession of the night: Here, D’Angelo Russell – a master at coercing favorable switches – engages in a side pick-and-roll with his teammate Jacob Evans, thereby shedding Garrett Temple. Instinctively, Chandler slides over to grab the suddenly uncovered D’Angelo Russell with unwavering confidence. Russell, who as we all know is one of the shiftiest ball-handlers in this league, performs a multitude of cross-overs to shed the 32-year-old power forward. Nothing. Chandler doesn’t budge an inch, keeping his sneakers planted on the hardwood, his feet on his toes, his arms raised, his fingers in Russell’s point of view.

Without notice, Russell arises, launching his trademarked high-arching three-ball in the grill of the Nets’ gritty solider. And you know what? I’ll be damned. The former Nugget standout contests D’Angelo’s shot beautifully, affecting his release so that the ball barely grazes side-rim.

While these four plays may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, especially against the worst team in the league, there were plenty of positive takeaways from Wednesday’s game. Brooklyn’s defense locked-in on Golden State’s best player from the get-go, forced him into some early misses, and extinguished his early-game rhythm. Caris LeVert, especially, did a commendable job, holding Russell to 2-of-6 shooting on the night (per NBA matchup stats).

Now look, scheming out D’Angelo Russell on an awfully terrible team is one thing, but true challenges lie ahead. A slate of Toronto, Indiana and Toronto again is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Let’s see if those Brooklyn Nets can get it done.