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David Duke Jr. goes for 28 and Dru Smith debuts with 13 as Long Island Nets win

Capital City Gogo v Long Island Nets Photo by KeShawn Ennis/NBAE via Getty Images

The Long Island Nets rose to victory against the Grand Rapids Gold, the Nuggets G League affiliate, Saturday night, 96-85. The win improves the Nets’ record to 7-3, the fourth seed in the Eastern conference and only a half-game back from the first seed.

“This is one of my favorite wins,” head coach Ronnie Burrell said postgame, a nod to the defensive nature of the matchup. “Some type of days you can’t throw it in the ocean no matter what it is, but as long as you win — those teams are good. The defense has to be consistent, so I’m happy with this win.”

Two-way Guard David Duke Jr. was high scorer on the night with 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 2-of-5 from deep. He added five rebounds and four assists. Duke recorded the most minutes on the floor with 35 and had the second-highest plus/minus, +18. Duke’s only struggles came with ball-handling, giving up the ball five times for turnovers.

“Duke is not a point guard, he’s a ball hander and a scorer,” Burrell noted postgame.

The Nets newly-signed two-way guard Dru Smith brought energy for the Nets, dishing out the ball for a team-high six assists to complement his 13 points...

Smith’s defensive energy was apparent throughout the evening with three steals and one block. Post-game, Burrell explained why he trusted the guard to play in the closing lineup in the fourth quarter.

“He showed through the game when he was picking everything up so fast. It’s really easy to communicate with as a backcourt player and as a point guard, just on the sideline. [He’s] attentive. So we developed that trust over the game,” said Burrell. “And that was kind of the point — he’s getting to know me, I’m getting to know him. This is our first day working together. He did a great job, I told him to relax [when] he missed a few layups in that first half. I told him to relax, you know, he had a long flight yesterday.”

Smith confirmed the accuracy of those sentiments, noting he had to knock off some rust from a travel itinerary that brought him to Nassau Coliseum. The former Miami Heat two-way had been playing in Santa Cruz, California, with Sioux Falls Skyforce when the Nets signed him.

“Just trying to get out there and find my rhythm, get used to playing with all the guys. I think eventually you get back to playing basketball — kind of takes you that first half to knock a little bit of that flight off,” added Smith.

Duke Jr. got the party started out of the gates with an assist, a pair of 3-pointers, and a trip to the free throw line. Long Island captured the lead and held it for much of the first half, with Grand Rapids never jumping ahead by more than a few points.

With 7:23 remaining in the first quarter, Smith entered the game for the first time. Burrell said pregame that the team would take it easy with his minutes as Smith became accustomed to the group, but the 6‘3” guard was the first Net off the bench and played several long stints in the opening half of play.

Grand Rapids built its largest lead of the evening, but the Nets threw the final punch with a 11-2 run to capture a 49-45 lead heading into halftime.

After a cold first half shooting, Smith found his range in the third quarter. Two catch-and-shoot threes from the right ring helped him find his rhythm, and after taking it to the rim for a smooth layup, Smith finished the period with an off-the-dribble triple, creating separation with a swift in-and-out move. Much like the first quarter, the Nets finished strong with an 11-0 run, turning what was once a four-point deficit into a multi-possession advantage.

Grand Rapids went scoreless in the final 4:22 of the third quarter, and ultimately wouldn’t score until the 10:17 mark in the fourth quarter. The Nets would not relinquish the lead again, which quickly ballooned to double-digits and grew to as many as thirteen points.

Next up for Long Island will be another meeting against the Gold on Monday for Martin Luther King Day. The game is set for an early tip-off at 1:00 p.m. ET and will air on NBAGLeague.com and on the YES App.