NEW YORK — David Fizdale put to rest any notion that he would have switched Tim Hardaway Jr. off of Caris LeVert on Brooklyn’s final possession of their 107-105 loss to the Nets on Friday night.
“He and that kid [LeVert] went to college together and they were going at it,” Fizdale told reporters on Saturday. “So he was really trying to win that battle. I commend him for that. That’s why there was no way I was taking him off that kid on the last possession. I’m trying to make Timmy into a complete basketball player. He needed to go through that and take that challenge.
“Hey the kid scored, but he learned from it and he knows I believe in him as a defender now.’’
The Nets had the ball with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 105, and LeVert had Hardaway isolated well behind the three-point line. LeVert faked left, crossed over right, drove to the rim and scored with just over one second left on the clock. Fizdale drew up a play for Hardaway to win with a three, but it was too far behind the three-point line to have a chance.
Many questioned Fizdale’s decision to stick with Hardaway Jr. on LeVert — who has become Brooklyn’s premier perimeter player — instead of switching to a more stingy defender, like guard Frank Ntilikina or forward Lance Thomas. New York’s coach said if he did so, it could have crushed one of his best players.
“I want you guys to look at it like this,” he said. “There was a day I played. If I was in a game playing against a college teammate, and we’ve been going tit for tat — 28, 29 (points), back and forth, back and forth. And the last play of the game, coach goes ahead and says, ‘I’m gonna put him [somebody else] on LeVert], I might lose Timmy. That could crush him.”
Instead of switching defenders, Fizdale said he let Hardaway learn the hard way. It’s trial by fire for a player he wants to turn into a capable defender.
“This is a development year. That’s part of Timmy’s development. He’s gotta take that challenge,” he said. “I can’t hide him. He’s gotta dig in and get that stop. And he didn’t get it last night, but he knows I believe he can. And we’re gonna keep working at it. It was just a personnel breakdown. He knew that kid wanted to go right. He let him get right. We’ll fix that issue. Next time, we’ll get the stop.
“So that’s what it’s about. It’s not about me trying to manipulate a situation to hopefully win a game. The areas that I’m trying to get these to be better at when it comes up in a game, I gotta let them go through that. I can’t hide em from it.”
Fizdale is walking on a tight rope. On one end, he wants this basketball team to compete for as many wins as it can string together. On the other end, he wants to develop his guys into complete players, even if it means giving up a game-winning basket.
Some may not agree with his decision, but he was adamant: Hardaway was going to guard LeVert on that final Nets possession. Hardaway was also critical of his own defense on that possession. He knew LeVert was going right, and let him get back to that side anyway.
The loss is acceptable. The lesson could last a lifetime.