Patty Mills Clutch Play Softening Blow of Irving Absence
Kyrie Irving's absence and James Harden's subpar play have cast doubt on the Brooklyn Nets as title favorites.
While their 17-7 record paints a picture of elite play, the team's open to the season has been anything but smooth. Despite this, Brooklyn sits atop the Eastern Conference and the clutch play of an under-the-radar veteran is a huge reason why.
Patty Mills has been that guy.
The 12-year vet signed a 2-year, $12 million contract this offseason and has been worth every penny. Mills ranks second in the league in three-point shooting at 46.3%. The most impressive part of the guard's play has been his consistency in clutch moments. Moments when the Nets have desperately been searching for offense.
Brooklyn's Tuesday comeback win in Dallas was the latest example. Mills was just 1-6 heading into the fourth but knocked down three timely shots to aid the run.
Mills leads Brooklyn in 4th quarter plus-minus amongst players who have played at least 13 games. He is shooting a team-best 45% (18-40) from three in the final frame. Harden is the next closest in 4th quarter threes with 11 makes on just 27.5% shooting.
While his shooting has garnered the most recognition, Mills' contributions transcend just one skill. His presence can be felt in big moments. The guard slows the game down for the stars, frequently putting Durant and Harden in positions to succeed.
The following play is a great example. Dallas began doubling Durant on every possession in the last three minutes Tuesday night. Here, Mills gets the ball to Durant in the mid-post. When he receives the return pass off of the double, he uses a quick pass fake to freeze the doubler on the rotation. He then quickly gets the ball back to Durant.
The fake opened up Durant's side of the floor, allowing him to get comfortable moving into a shot. Many players would hold the ball for an extra second in that spot, allowing the defense to rotate and regain position. Mills, on the other hand, knows what he is doing with the ball before he receives it.
These overlooked examples of Mills' high IQ are a constant theme in Brooklyn's fourth-quarter success.
Mills' high IQ in pressure spots showed up in the Nets' Nov. 24th win in Boston. The Celtics were in the midst of a 17-2 run, threatening a massive fourth-quarter deficit. The crowd was finally starting to get behind their team. Mills then has two fantastic defensive possessions, drawing a charge and locking down a post up, before hitting a three to kill the momentum.
Timely plays like these are the reason the Aussie is already a fan favorite in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn will be without Irving for the foreseeable future as he has given no indication he intends to receive the covid vaccine. Harden's performance Tuesday night was an encouraging sign, but he has yet to string together multiple elite performances this year.
If this doesn't change, Mills' offensive production will continue to be a barometer of Brooklyn's success. His presence on the floor in clutch moments is difficult to replicate on this roster. Head Coach Steve Nash recognizes this, and Mills will be a fixture in closing lineups as a result.
The Nets are entering a softer stretch with six of their next nine opponents under .500. Brooklyn is a half-game up on Chicago for the top spot in the East.
This team still has several questions marks that have cast doubt on them as a championship favorite. However, one thing is abundantly clear through 24 games:
Patty Mills is a necessity on this roster.