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Caris LeVert’s remarkable week before shutdown shouldn’t be forgotten

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You can ask if he’s the Nets “third star” ... or not. You can suggest what he could bring back in a trade ... or not. You can wonder if he will always be injury prone ... or not. Usage rates, consistency in 3-point shooting, defense, whatever! All worthwhile topics for discussion.

But one thing that’s not up for debate: In the final week before the NBA shut down, Caris LeVert put on a show that few players who’ve worn the black-and-white or even the red, white and blue before that had ever reached.

It may be hard to recall in light of everything that’s happened since the Nets boarded a plane in L.A. bound for a game vs. the Warriors that was never played. But, it shouldn’t be forgotten. No, sir.

As was noted at the time, only four players in Nets history had ever posted both a 50-point game and a triple-double in a single season. But of that quartet, none had done it in the span of four days!

The 25-year-old had a 51-point game on Tuesday, March 3, and a triple double —27/11/10— on Friday, March 6. Yes, Kyrie Irving came close, getting his over a 10-day period early in the season, but both of those games were losses. Of LeVert’s five games that week, the Nets won four ... and two of them were arguably the biggest wins of the season (thus far), road victories against the Celtics and Lakers. And let’s not forget, the Nets replaced Kenny Atkinson mid-week.

“Mine was in the span of a week,” said LeVert of his two accomplishments, “so I was playing really good basketball at the time, and we were winning games as well, so it was definitely a good time.”

Indeed, he and they were killing it. In the five games between March 3 and 10, LeVert averaged 27.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists with a shooting line of 50/44/70. If you strip out that one loss, the blowout to Memphis in mid-week (and wouldn’t we all like to), LeVert’s numbers are even more eye-popping: 30.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists with a shooting line of 54/52/72.

And within those stats, there were even more highlights. In the 51-point game at Boston, where he engineered a 21-point comeback, LeVert scored 26 points in the fourth quarter and 11 more (the only Nets points) in overtime. As every Nets fans knows, he hit three straight three’s to get close, then three straight free throws with 0.2 seconds left in regulation, a challenge he’d never previously faced. “But I was confident when I stepped to the line I was going to hit all three.”

“It was a different type of feeling,” LeVert told YES Network’s Michael Grady last month. “I’ve never scored that many points before; middle school, high school, AAU, nothing. I had never really been in that type of zone before, but it was extremely fun and it felt good to get the win too.”

And, as he told Grady, the Celtic game was on TNT. “We don’t really get a lot of those games.”

The week’s worth of excitement also gave LeVert confidence. But he remained ever-so-humble. After the 51-point breakout, LeVert first thanked God, then his coach, then his teammates.

“My teammates did a great job,” he told the media. “Chris Chiozza. I reached out to him. He played his butt off tonight along with TLC (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), the rest of that unit. They work hard every day. So they deserve that, that’s for sure.”

Asked after the triple double whether he thought he was reaching a new level, LeVert would only say “I think so,” then switched the subject to the team’s efforts that week rebounding from the awfulness of the Grizzlies game. “Obviously, it sucks to have games like the Memphis game between those as far as a losing effort for the team. For us, if we just stay locked in as a team, we’ll continue to keep getting these wins.”

He later told Grady that while the 51-point game was great, he pointed to his 23-point effort in the Nets sole win over the 76ers in last year’s playoffs as his top thrill.

His teammates recognized what was going on as well that week.

“He was not missing, couldn’t be stopped,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “When you got a guy like that, it’s easy. Play defense, give him the ball on offense do what you have to do and bring the win home.”

“In the fourth quarter, he came out and was hitting everything,” added Chiozza. “I just tried to find him as much as I could. I told him during the timeout, ‘Let me bring the ball up, and you’ve got to score. When you get to your spot, you just put your hands up, and I’ll get you the ball.’ That’s what he did the whole fourth quarter. He got to his spot.”

It wasn’t just the 51-point guard or the triple-double that impressed. Although Spencer Dinwiddie sealed the deal vs. the Lakers, LeVert helped keep them in the game late. In the final three and a half minutes, he scored five points, finishing with 22 points and seven boards.

And of course, the week was merely the peak of a string of games going back to his return from thumb surgery. Beginning February 3, as Tom Dowd of the Nets official site wrote. LeVert averaged 24.1 points while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range, along with 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game over 16 games up until the season was suspended.

So as we all wait for a renewal of the season and wonder if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will return, don’t forget who was carrying the team when it went south.