Cam Thomas, Nets notch ridiculous record vs. Bucks not seen in 52 years
The Brooklyn Nets effectively punted on Thursday’s game in Milwaukee, the front end of a back-to-back, by sitting Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Johnson, Nic Claxton and Royce O’Neale. After the Nets fell behind by 17 points at the end of the first quarter, Mikal Bridges, Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith and Joe Harris would also remain out.
Despite the absence of almost the entire rotation, Brooklyn nearly pulled off an improbable comeback against the league-leading Bucks, cutting the deficit to two points with less than a minute remaining. The Nets set a franchise record with 98 bench points in the loss, the most scored by a team since the NBA started tracking starters/bench players in 1970-71.
Patty Mills led the way with 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 from three. Despite falling out of Brooklyn’s rotation this season, the 34-year-old has turned in several high-level performances when called upon, the most notable of which was a shocking Dec. 10 win at Indiana in which the Nets rested eight players.
Cam Thomas paced Mills with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Thomas became the youngest player in NBA history to score 40+ points in three consecutive games last month but had seen his minutes cut drastically during Brooklyn’s last three games, most recently logging a DNP-CD in Houston Tuesday. As he did during his historic February stretch, the 21-year-old nearly willed his team to victory Thursday, scoring 11-straight points in the final 2:30 to pull the Nets within two.
However, a Brook Lopez putback put Milwaukee up four with 30 seconds remaining, giving the Bucks control the rest of the way. The all-time Nets leading scorer destroyed his former team on both ends in the win, recording a career-high nine blocks to go along with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Thomas opened the game 3-of-7 before his scoring blitz in the final minutes. And head coach Jacque Vaughn was impressed with the second-year guard’s resiliency during the performance:
“You keep learning as a young player. Tonight, early on the ball wasn’t going in for him,” Vaughn said. “So how do you respond to that? We had a possession where we talked in the huddle about just playing, moving on to the next play, don’t let what’s happened in the past dictate what’s going on in the future. I thought he did an amazing job of doing that.
He re-focused himself and was able to score buckets for us down the stretch. Those are great lessons along the way that you can’t replicate unless you’re in them. So I think he grew tonight.”
The 2021 first-round pick will need to maintain that resiliency with his inconsistent role persisting despite the trades of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Dru Smith, the Nets’ two-way pickup from January, scored a career-best 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting. The guard appeared in five games with Miami earlier this season before being released. David Duke Jr, Brooklyn’s other two-way, added 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting while Day’Ron Sharpe posted 11 points, four rebounds, two steals, and one block.
Despite the bench unit’s historic night, there are no moral victories for a Nets team fighting for a playoff spot with 16 games remaining. But Mills pointed to the team’s new dynamic following a pair of franchise-altering trades when asked what he takes from the valiant effort by Brooklyn’s reserves:
“I think just the part of being professional,” the veteran replied. “Not being able to play for so long and doing whatever they can to stay ready, so when their number is called they come out, they understand the gameplan, and they try to execute that to the best of their ability. It’s all you really can ask for.
Tonight was an opportunity for them to do that with significant minutes in a significant game, a game that meant something. We’re proud of the effort and proud of the group being able to hang tight… This is a good locker room and I think if we are to succeed at the end of the day, it’s gonna be because of that.”