Patty Mills has been required to play a bigger role than initially expected this season with the Nets due to Kyrie Irving’s absence, and the veteran guard’s responsibilities have further expanded with the recent injury to Joe Harris.
On Friday night, Mills made his eighth straight start since Harris went down with an ankle injury last month, and he scored 23 points with four 3-pointers in a 110-105 win over the Timberwolves at Barclays Center.
“He’s been very crucial,” Kevin Durant said of Mills after the Nets improved to an Eastern Conference-leading 16-6 entering the home game Saturday night against the No. 2 Bulls. “He’s just being aggressive and knocking down shots and providing pace for us.
“Patty has been great, and we’re asking for a lot from him now with guys being injured. But he’s taken on that challenge, and we’re going to need a lot more from him going forward.”
Mills, who signed a two-year contract worth $12 million over the summer after playing the previous 10 seasons with the Spurs, has averaged 16.6 points and nearly 34 minutes over eight appearances since moving into the starting lineup Nov. 16 against the Warriors.
James Harden said the 33-year-old Mills’ contributions have been “big time, on both ends of the ball,” particularly down the stretch of the win Friday, the Nets’ sixth victory in seven games.
“Being the little pest defensively and offensively, being ready to shoot and having that confidence that he has always been having since he has been in the NBA or even just playing basketball,” Harden said. “He makes some big shots, timely shots and plays basketball the right way and you can tell.”
While most of the Nets’ offense revolves around Harden and Durant, Mills provides experience and ability to knock down open shots from long distance.
“I mean, it’s not a lot drawn up [for him]. It’s about reading and reacting and playing off of each other,” head coach Steve Nash said. “Typically James is going to play on pick-and-roll, and we’re going to play various sets for Kevin and they have some decisions to make. But if we play quick, move the ball, make quick decisions, play with pace, it’s very difficult to cover.
“And [Mills] was great [Friday night]. He made plays. He had a big assist in the fourth quarter. He scrambled defensively for us. He defended his man well. He picked up playing the two for brief moments at critical times when we weren’t matched. So he did a lot of things outside of the shot making to help us win.”
Mills’ recent splurge has boosted his scoring average for the season to 12.7 points this season, which represents the Australia native’s highest output for his 13-year NBA career.
But he spoke after Friday’s win only in terms of the collective effort, saying, “I think everybody made an impact that led to a team win” in a game Nash admitted “wasn’t a masterpiece.”
“That’s a lesson in itself, right, throughout the course of not only a game but the course of the season. Just to stick with things and trust that things can evolve from that,” Mills said. “So [it was] one of those games, put it in the bank, understand where we can get better on those specific things and how we can let that come out at the end of the season when we really need it to.
“I think there’s a lot of learning lessons here from us on the defensive end, that we’re finding out a lot about us that can come very useful at the end of the season when we need it to. So when this thing clicks — and it will at some point — it’s going to be very exciting.”Internet Explorer Channel Network