Jared Dudley tipped a pass and Rajon Rondo intercepted it, the final seconds in the third quarter ticking off the clock, sending the Lakers the other way. With his left hand, Rondo scooped a high-arcing pass, and Dudley — much more defensive tackle than wide receiver — ran underneath it.
With barely a tenth of a second to spare, he got a shot off right in front of his former teammates on the Brooklyn bench, the ball splashing through the net as the buzzer echoed throughout the arena.
“That’s probably my most fun moment so far,” Dudley said.
‘The Rajon-to-Dudley play is an all-time play,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
It was a big shot at a big moment and Dudley celebrated it as such. He spread his arms wide, glided and posed for a second right at midcourt. He jumped into Anthony Davis. He ran into Troy Daniels. He jumped into LeBron James. And then he did it again.
But that shot was worth more than the three points it added to the scoreboard. It, Vogel said, will help Dudley do his primary job with the Lakers even better.
“Duds is a leader,” Vogel said. “When you have leaders that just don’t talk about it ... when they come in and produce every time their number is called and play the game at a high level with high IQ, it just strengthens their voice. It’s just invaluable to a team and to a winning culture.”
It’s why the Lakers wanted him so early in the offseason — he was the second player to commit in free agency. He’s got nearly 900 games under his belt as a pro and has had an extended run as veteran leader. But doing that job when you’re not playing (or playing well) is hard.
Filling in for JaVale McGee, who is out with an illness — “I’m the new third-string five,” Dudley cracked — he finished with eight points and five rebounds, two steals and a block, the kinds of numbers that lend credibility to his words.
“When I was in Phoenix, it was hard to gain respect when you’re getting 30, 40 DNPs [did not play]. Here is different. I might get three or four DNPs. I get in, play 10 to 15 [minutes], do well and then they see me.
“I don’t have to play big minutes, just time to time, so they’re not just hearing my voice say the same thing over and over,” he said.
His work is appreciated. When Dudley first checked in Thursday, fans in Brooklyn roared and chanted his name. He might’ve considered coming back to Brooklyn for a second season, too, had it not been for the Lakers’ interest first.
Dudley said that was in the back of his mind as he played after sitting out Wednesday’s win against the Knicks. And his opportunities on a team with championship aspirations are rare. So when he got his chance Thursday, Dudley maximized it.
“It’s just to contribute ... you want to be a mentor, you want to be a good vet and contribute. But you also want to perform,” Dudley said. “For me to keep showing them on a consistent basis when I get my opportunities that I can perform, just shows you the value that I can bring to the team. It feels good that I can still hit shots at this age.”