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Cam Thomas scores game-high 21 points as Nets beat Lakers in preseason opener, 123-97

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

It was shades of Summer League, but more importantly, a huge opportunity for the young players to show their worth. And they came through, being led as they were in Las Vegas by a couple of teenagers.

Although both teams rested their big names, the Nets and Lakers superstars were on hand at Staples Center, smiling, checking out the box score and soaking in the vibe of preseason basketball. To make the game even sweeter for the Nets idle “Big Three,” Brooklyn came out victorious, defeating Los Angeles, 123-97, in the first game of the 2021-22 season. The game attracted 16,000 fans, including Joe Tsai who sat courtside opposite the Nets bench.

“I’m happy with the level of transfer from training camp. The guys did a great job locking in this week and it was good a good transfer tonight. I’m pleased overall,” said Steve Nash on the preseason win.

It was apparent before tip the young players were “eager” to get on the floor and take advantage of the opportunity. Overall, Millsap was left impressed by the youth performances.

“I’ve seen these guys all week. I’ve seen the work they’ve put in. They’ve been putting in the work all week. They were a little eager for this moment and them going out there and doing what they do. It was impressive, especially for young guys to come in,” Millsap said. “First preseason game, you didn’t see any nerves. They went out there and did the job.”

The Nets rested a total of seven players — Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Patty Mills and James Johnson. Who did play is what Brooklyn had be happy about.

All 12 players that were active for the Nets saw the court. Of those 12 players, Cam Thomas backed up his strong Summer League stint with a standout performance off the bench. The No. 27 pick finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 1-of-3 from deep in 22 minutes of play. The highest scorer among NCAA freshman last year and the highest scorer in the Summer League showed he can score in a lot of ways.

“I felt it was solid for my first actual game against vets and playing with vets. I felt like I did real good. I just want to keep building from there and keep it going,” said Thomas on his performance.

As WorldWideWob tweeted as Thomas left the game...

While Thomas blossomed, Brooklyn’s other rookies also kicked off the preseason on an impressive note. Sharpe, who didn’t play a lot of minutes, recorded 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in 14 minutes of play. He was also perfect at the line — and got Dwight Howard out of the game following a confrontation late. David Duke Jr. followed with 13 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes off the bench.

“I think the young guys, in general, stepped up and really transferred a lot of the concepts and defensive schemes that we practiced during the week and applied it to this week. I think we executed on offense. Everybody was sharp and on-point, getting stops, running in transition. The young guys really stepped up today, for sure,” Duke said on the rookies’ performances.

Kessler Edwards, who’s already signed to a two-way, scored nine points, grabbed five boards and played good D throughout his 27 minutes, second only to Duke’s 30. Overall, the four scored 56 points.

“They all did great. Duke was really good. He did a lot of things. Kessler too. He showed he can defend at this level, good offensive rebounds and do some things with his athleticism and length. Day’Ron, he’s got some ability. He’s a big guy who has soft hands. A natural rebounder. All those guys did very well,” said Nash on the young players’ performances. “They didn’t get a ton of reps in training camp too, so I was really proud of them.”

Sekou Doumbouya, who saw only 13 minutes of action, turned his defense into offense. The 20-year-old finished with 11 points, four rebounds and one assist in the win and played with energy.

The Nets opened the preseason contest on a strong note, growing a 10-point lead off a 13-0 run. Despite a strong start early, Nash released the youth off the bench and the young guys quickly got their first taste of NBA officiating — three straight offensive fouls on screens — allowing LA to trim the deficit but Brooklyn escaped the first quarter with a 25-19 lead. Brown led the Nets with 10 points in 10 minutes and finished the game with 12 points in 25 minutes. The Nets defense held the Lakers to only 31.1 percent from the field and scoreless from deep.

Thomas began to display his confidence and his tough shot-making skills to start the second. The Nets rookie converted on a series of difficult shots to provide Brooklyn a spark ... and get Harden out of his seat.

Thomas went on to record 12 points off the bench heading into the half with Brooklyn nursing a 57-49 advantage. In addition to the rookie showcasing his combined knack of offensive aggressiveness and scoring in traffic, the Nets got good minutes from the veterans, LaMarcus Aldridge (six points) and Paul Millsap (eight).

Aldridge finished with six points, four rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes of play. Millsap contributed a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes, hitting his first two 3-pointers.

“I thought he looked good,” said Nash on Aldridge’s performance. “He had a good week of camp. He looks like he’s moving well. It’s the icing on the cake that he looks so well and feels good.”

Brooklyn hit the halfway point shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three behind nine players seeing action. Meanwhile, Los Angeles shot 45.7 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from deep.

The Lakers began to capitalize off the Nets sloppy play midway through the third, cutting the deficit to two points with 5:37 remaining. Brooklyn topped off the third with the four rookies and one of them got their welcome to the NBA moment.

Sharpe caught an elbow from Dwight Howard while both were boxing out for a rebound. After a long six-minute review filled with confusion, Howard picked up a technical and Sharpe picked up the common foul.

“It was a preseason game for everybody,” Nash joked about the replay.

The Nets entered the final 12 minutes of play boasting a flimsy 84-81 lead. And that was all she wrote.

Brooklyn held their foot on the gas pedal to start the fourth, turning defense into a decisive advantage, forging a 15-1 run to extend the lead to 19, then upped to 28-2 before the Lakers recovered. The lengthy run left Los Angeles with little time to find momentum and climb back into the game. The lead ultimately ballooned to 30. In the end, Brooklyn and its young guns came out with a strong win and a great first step toward winning both the first game of the season as well as they last come June.

The Film Room

First off, (Matt here) wowzah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s good to be back recapping Nets games. Let’s touch on some film!

So look, overreacting to preseason footage or really anything related to the NBA’s exhibition games is not what we’re planning on doing here. Did Nicolas Claxton look a little rusty offensively? Sure, he was also playing with Bruce Brown and Jevon Carter leading the pick-and-roll dance; those players will soon be replaced by James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Did we get a ginormous look at LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap playing together? No, not really. There wasn’t exactly a ton to come away with after Brooklyn’s first preseason game.

That said, it’s getting increasingly tough to deny what Cam Thomas brings to the table.

He’s shown out at basically every level — NBA action (so far), sub-NBA hoops, college play, high school, shoot, you name it. The guy has lit it up. After leading all summer league scorers in scoring at 27 points per game, Cam Thomas put up 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting in his first (sort of) real-deal NBA game. Not too shabby.

“Scoring is scoring, honestly,” said Thomas about his biggest gift on the court. “I don’t know why people always think stuff can’t translate — I think scoring is scoring. If you can score, you can score doesn’t matter who you’re playing against.”

The clip was shared above, but check out the amount of space Thomas generates to get off this jumper. Cam’s ability to conjure up room for himself while moving sideways is uncanny. Keep in mind, he does this moving toward the baseline without stepping out of bounds.

That space generation also applies to when Cam is moving backward — stepbacks aren’t just a thing hidden deep in the pockets of his bag; they’re a fulcrum of his scoring package. This one is ripped straight out of the Devin Booker starter pack as a scorer.

Cam’s body is incredibly developed for his age at just 19 years old. He’s got strong legs, wide shoulders, and special balance, and it appears as if he’s added weight to his frame since showing out in Summer League. He uses those things in unison to operate downhill, draw contact, and create space between himself and the shot-blocker.

All in all, it’ll be tough to keep this kid out of the lineup if he keeps it up. That said, the head coach made it clear cracking the rotation will be quite the uphill battle for the rookie scorer.

“Well, we’ll see about the rotation,” said Nash. “We’ve got a lot of veteran guys on this team, you know, we’ve got a lot of scoring punch on this team, so we’ll see. That’s a tough ask for a young player, but we love him. We think he can develop into a very good player, but I don’t want to get ahead of it.”

We don’t either, but boy, he’s sure making us at least take a second to think.

What’s next

The Nets will be back in action on Friday, Oct. 8 when the team hosts the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 PM ET and will be Brooklyn’s second of four total preseason games.

The Nets will practice again Tuesday. If Kyrie Irving isn’t vaccinated, he won’t be able to participate in the practice.

For a different perspective, check out our folks at Silver Screen and Roll — our sister site covering the Lakers.