When the Nets signed Mike James last Friday, he went largely overlooked as a 10-day addition. It was a name most fans either didn’t remember or didn’t know.
They know him now. It hasn’t taken James long to see to that.
It was James who was on the floor down the stretch Tuesday night, running the show as the Nets came from behind to beat the Raptors and clinch a playoff berth.
“Mike James played huge for us,” Joe Harris said. “And it’s literally his second game playing with us.”
Technically, third. But Harris’ point stands.
On March 27 — a month to the day before Tuesday’s win — James played his final game for CSKA Moscow. Much has been made about his altercation with his coach, which made him available.
With their backcourt decimated by injuries, the Nets gladly scooped him up.
James Harden, Spencer Dinwiddie, Bruce Brown and Chris Chiozza were all out Tuesday, and will be Thursday in Indiana.
Enter James, right when he’s most needed.
“Mike’s been great just coming in and playing his game,” Harris said. “He’s just a good point guard, being able to get into the paint, create for guys, does an excellent job driving and finding open guys. But he can also get his own shot, too; and for him to be with us for a week and we’re running plays for him at the end of the game says a lot.”
Hours after signing last Friday, James made his debut and helped the Nets beat the Celtics. He had eight points, two assists and two rebounds to finish plus-17 in 21 minutes.
After being limited to a cameo in his second game, Sunday against the Suns, he was stellar against the Raptors in his third: 11 points, eight assists and being entrusted with the keys down the stretch.
James played every second of the fourth quarter, where he had all his points, six assists and finished a plus-16, helping the Nets outscore Toronto 36-20.
“Mike James was great,” coach Steve Nash said. “Played with a little more pace and made it more difficult for them defensively.”
It’s impressive for a player who had not been seen in the NBA since he played 36 games in 2017-18. But out of sight didn’t mean out of the game.
Sandwiched around that season with Phoenix and New Orleans, the 30-year-old James has been on an Odysseus-like journey with ports of call in Croatia, Israel, Italy, Greece and Spain. He brought that experience with him to Brooklyn.
“Just been around the world playing the game of basketball, so he’s seen different styles of play,” said Kevin Durant, who knows James through his own brother Tony. “At his age, with his experience, he’s one of those guys you can throw in there any time and he can be himself.
“He knows who he is as a player. Once guys figure out what their games are like and how they approach the game, it’s easier for them to just slide in and contribute right away. Mike’s one of those guys. He got hot for us and we stuck with him.”
And the Nets could stick with him for a while. His 10-day deal expires on Sunday, but the Nets can give him another, which would bring him near the end of the regular-season. They would have to create a roster spot to convert him to a two-way or standard deal to use him in the playoffs.
That no longer seems like a stretch.
“He’s an athletic and skilled player. As long as he plays simple and makes good basketball plays — like he has with us those first few games — he can play a role for us,” Nash said. “He has a burst of pace, he can get into paint, play draw-and-kick.
“He obviously showed he can score the ball, and we know that from his history. But if he can be that guard that ups the pace, that penetrates, draws the defense and makes the extra pass, that’s a huge value add for our team. So, really, really great performance from him. Those are some of the tools that he can bring to the table for us.”
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