Cam Thomas is that guy.
With the Long Island Nets down 110-102 with 2:44 remaining, Thomas orchestrated a 12-0 run in the clutch. It was part of a stretch where 20-year-old scored 16 of Long Island’s final 20 points. Game over.
Thomas helped deliver the Long Island their second victory of the young G League season, 114-110, as well as handing Raptors 905 — the Raps’ G League affiliate — their first loss. The Nets were coming off of a hearty loss just a day earlier to that same 905 team, one that saw Brooklyn’s G League affiliate team fall behind by as many as 27 points on their home floor.
Thomas amazed with his array of moves in crunch time, owning the definition of a “three-level scorer.” With a bag that reaches deep, from four-point plays at the logo and and running floaters through the lane, Cam’s offensive ethos continues to be “taking what teams are giving,” just as it was in the Summer League and NBA preseason.
He cited that ethos in explaining how he works when the defense plays drop coverage; “So for me, if I master the mid-range, floaters or pull-ups, then I’ll open back up to three.” He referred back to that same principle when talking about how he can create opportunities for his teammates. He recorded five assists against Raptors 905. It was his highest total probably since high school.
“They were open, so I passed it to them, and they made the shots. I just take what people give me ... I have no problem getting assists.” Still, it’s important to remember Cam’s first guiding principle: “But if they give me the bucket, I’m taking the bucket — of course. That’s what the game needs.”
None of this came as a surprise to Long Island Nets head coach Adam Caporn. Caporn has now spent two training camps with Thomas (with both the Brooklyn and Long Island Nets) and has poured over “every second of [him] playing” in the NBA.
Adam Caporn's reaction to Cam Thomas' fiery fourth quarter:— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) November 21, 2021
"When you’re around Cam you kind of come to just appreciate and notice those things but not be surprised. Fantastic scorer with great belief, great calm. Just always coming toward at you, love his competitiveness.”
Postgame, Caporn also shared to what he attributed the defensive intensity Long Island showed down the stretch:
“I thought we stopped fouling around the rim. We just had better aspects of verticality and keeping guys in front … we kept them off the three and we protected the rim, and that’s where Day’Ron and Kessler were fantastic down the stretch, doing that. And we rebounded — I think that rim protection was really huge.”
But ultimately, as Caporn says, “Cam was outstanding and brought us home.”
After Raptors 905 jumped out to an early seven-point lead, the Nets were able to stabilize the differential and keep it close throughout the first quarter, mostly due to efficient long-range shooting. Long Island ended the frame shooting 40 percent from three. The quarter ended with the two squads tied at 23 points.
Spearheaded by the scoring of guards Thomas and Bryce Brown, as well as Thomas’ on-ball creation, Long Island sped ahead to capture a 59-54 lead entering the halftime break.
Toronto’s G League club started the second half of play motivated to make a dent in Long Island’s lead. The Nets found themselves down three points and needing to make up ground. They did so by shifting the game into the paint, attacking the basket to both score at the rim and kick the ball out to shooters. Long Island successfully recaptured the lead entering the fourth quarter, but by just a mere point: 82-81.
And in the final period, the Nets were able to bring home the victory in the front of the home crowd at Nassau Coliseum following Thomas’ late-game heroics.
It was (nearly) a full house for the Brooklyn Nets in Long Island on Saturday night. Besides Thomas, first round draft pick Day’Ron Sharpe also suited after being assigned to Long Island by Nets, while Two-Way forward Kessler Edwards was back with the G League club after missing the past two outings. Only guard David Duke Jr, also on a Two-Way contract, missed the action with a hip injury.
Sharpe recorded his second double-double of the G League season on Saturday with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Caporn credited him, along with Kessler Edwards, with defending the paint well with verticality and without fouling, while Sharpe made sure setting the tone in the paint with two rejections as well.
The UNC product flashed some promising touch around basket on post hooks and turn-arounds, but his self-creation game is still limited.
The 6’11” big came up limping after awkwardly landing after one of the post hooks, and retreated to the bench with 6:20 remaining in the final period. Sharpe was able to rejoin the team on the floor at the 3:31 mark a few minutes later and his injury was described as minor by Caporn postgame.
Long Island Nets head coach Adam Caporn says that he was "told nothing" on Day'Ron Sharpe's brief absence due to apparent injury.— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) November 21, 2021
He "had a cramp" and it's "resolved."
Edwards struggled shooting from the field (3-for-11) and from three (1-for-6) on Saturday but was not going to be denied an opportunity to impact the game elsewhere. Edwards shined as a rim protector, both in help and as the primary defender. He recorded three blocks by night’s end. He also grabbed 11 boards, one shy of Sharpe for game high. Edwards’ handle continues to look shaky, but that weakness is a big reason he’ll spend most of his season with Caporn. He’ll need to improve it if he is to join Brooklyn for consistent rotational minutes.
With guard Josh Gray away with Team USA on Saturday, Marcus Zegarowksi slid into the starting lineup and scored 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting from behind the arc, as well as recording a team-high plus/minus of +11. Bryce Brown claimed the role of sixth man microwave scorer, and executed it — 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting for Long Island’s offseason acquisition.
Thomas made sure to highlight his teammates’ performance post-game: “Bryce Brown, he made timely shots, Day’Ron was a beast inside, Marcus hit some big shots for us, everyone just hit timely shots when we needed it.”
Caporn — and the rest of the Nets organization — is betting on Thomas and Sharpe sharing what they’ve learned from their time in Brooklyn NBA with their G League teammates.
“I think the thing that happens is guys go to Brooklyn, come back, and share knowledge.” Caporn says. “We’re doing like doing that as coaches too, imparting things, but they bring another level to that. And to see them go up and do well gives the guys a real lift.”
The reality of the G League is that each team’s best players won’t necessarily be available each and every night — they’ll be back with the NBA club on most nights. Knowing that the Nets won’t have players like Cam Thomas or Day’Ron Sharpe moving forward, how will they carry the momentum from a statement win like the one against the 905 moving forward?
“You have to work, you have to have real intent to get better, and you have to be ready for whatever else is thrown at you,” Caporn says.
The Long Island Nets will be heading back to Bridgeport Tuesday for their next game, a showdown against the rival Westchester Knicks. Long Island lost to Westchester 104-98 on November 17. Will Thomas and Sharpe be on hand? Nope. They were called back up to Brooklyn Sunday morning but each are building a nice G League resume’. In his two games, Thomas is now averaging 39.5 points while Sharpe is averaging a double-double, 15.5 points and 12.5 rebounds.