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Cam Thomas delivers game-winner to snap five-game home losing streak, defeating Spurs, 121-119, in OT

San Antonio Spurs v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It wasn’t what you would have expected in Game 38 but a rookie delivered when the team needed it most and the Nets came away with a win in a most improbable overtime scenario.

With 1.7 seconds remaining in OT, Cam Thomas drilled a crafty foul line floater to lift the Nets over the Spurs, 121-119...

The boss thought it special, too, offering a Chinese analogy...

With the victory, Brooklyn has snapped their five-game home losing skid and improve to 25-13 on the season. Although it was a nail-biting win against a team that isn’t even in the top 10 in the Western Conference, the Nets head coach sees it as a stepping stone for the team to get back to where they were.

“I think right now with our team struggling a little bit, a win is a win,” said Steve Nash on the nature of a win. “Find a way to get it done and start building and getting back to where we were. We’re clearly taking a couple of steps back here in the last week to 10 days. A win is a win and finding a way to win a close game.”

Indeed, it was another blown lead (12 points) at home for the Nets. Despite being up double-digits midway through the fourth, San Antonio compiled a 10-0 run that spanned four minutes to knot the game up at 113 with 40.8 seconds remaining.

“Missed shots and turned the ball over. That’s it,” said the Nets head coach on the Spurs 10-0 burst. “We had good looks. Missed them. We were a little sloppier with the ball and what should’ve been a great look was a good look or a good look became a bad look because we weren’t in a good rhythm. I thought we generated opportunities. We just couldn’t convert.”

The Nets secured a defensive stop and with the shot-clock turned off and the ball was in Kevin Durant’s hands at time was running out. Durant missed a straight-on-three that would have won it. Then, Thomas grabbed the offensive rebound but stepped out of bounds, giving the Spurs 00.8 seconds to steal one in regulation. San Antonio got a good look but Keita Bates-Diop couldn’t get a tip around the rim to fall. On to OT.

Brooklyn hit the final minute of OT nursing a flimsy 119-117 lead. After a James Harden turnover (the Nets’ 21st of the contest) Dejounte Murray was fouled on the other end and hit the pair of free throws to tie the game up at 119 with 46.0 seconds left. The Nets got escaped a jump ball and set things up for the improbable finish.

The shot clock was turned off and with all the eyes on Durant, the Nets superstar dished the ball out to the 20-year-old Thomas, who delivered a foul line floater to lift Brooklyn to a two-point lead with 1.4 seconds remaining. Brooklyn got the final defensive stop and a win is a win.

“It was just a 1-4 flat for KD. A game-winner to take us home but they came and doubled, so I was open and made a play,” said Thomas on his game-winning play. “It was either shoot a three or get to the hoop. I got to the hoop, did a floater. Just a good basketball play.”

The game winner gave the Summer League MVP and G League high scorer another impressive milestone. He’s the youngest player to hit a game winner since De’Aaron Fox did in 2018.

Durant led the Nets with 28 points, four rebounds, six assists, three blocks and one steal in 43 minutes of play. Harden followed with his 22nd double-double of the season (26 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists in a game-high 44 minutes.

Nash said all of his players will travel to Portland and he expects both of his superstars to play against the Trail Blazers Monday night. He also said he anticipated playing Kyrie Irving more minutes in his second game back.

“Everyone is going to go. We’ll all go to Portland. Those guys [Durant and Harden] want to play and we’re going to go play tomorrow night,” Nash said.

Thomas, who delivered the game-winner finished the win with 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 from three-point range. The rookie grabbed six rebounds and recorded a steal as well. Patty Mills, who has been in a slump took a good step in the win. Although the veteran guard shot 5-of-15 from the field and 3-of-12 from three, he finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes.

While Thomas and his game-winner highlighted the play of the Nets four rookies, there was plenty of opportunities seized by the group Sunday afternoon. All four played in the win and made statements in different ways. David Duke Jr., who started for the third straight game finished with six points, five assists, a rebound and a block in 17 minutes. Kessler Edwards recorded a string of defensive stops and tallied six points and three rebounds in 12 minutes. Day’Ron Sharpe added seven points, six rebounds and one steal in his 11 minutes of action.

“I thought they all did a good job. We’re in that position where we believe in those guys but they need time to really develop and play,” said Nash on the rookies’ play. “We try to give those guys a little bit of an opportunity and I thought they did well.”

And 22-year-old Nic Claxton, although not a rookie, had another signature game. Playing a career-high 33 minutes, Claxton finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, the latter a career high as well. It was his seventh straight double-figure outing and in five games this month, he’s averaging 13.2 points, 7.6 boards and shooting better than 70 percent from both the court and the line.

“He’s definitely improving,” said Nash on Claxton’s play during the latest stretch of games. “He seems like he has more endurance, can play longer stretches. He’s stronger, He’s much more physical and better around the basket on both ends. He’s better facilitating the offense with his running into actions and his free-throw mechanics are even improving. A lot of growth from Nic and I’m really proud of him.”

As Nash continues experimenting and giving his young’uns a chance, Nets veterans wound up with little or no time. Blake Griffin played only 8:22 and James Johnson 7:55 while Bruce Brown, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter didn’t play at all. Millsap hasn’t played in six straight games. With five games in seven days, there will be plenty of opportunities. As for LaMarcus Aldridge, he wasn’t available for the second time in four games.

“I don’t think it’s that serious,” Nash said of his center’s foot soreness. “I think he’s got some irritation and we’re just trying to get it behind him. I think it’s a short-term injury.”

Brooklyn got off to a strong start powered by their defense. The players were locked in on the defensive end which led to a smooth start, taking an early 11-5 lead through the first three minutes of play.

The Spurs quickly stormed back off a series of and-one plays and three-ball buckets through the play of their guards — Lonnie Walker IV (who scored the first 12 points for San Antonio), Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes to give San Antonio a 24-19 advantage with 3:17 left. Brooklyn weathered the storm, finishing the first knotted up at 32-32 behind 52.0 percent shooting from the field. Durant led the Nets after one with 11.

The Nets’ defensive activity dipped in the second but the team took some time to find a consistent offensive rhythm. After an emphatic slam by Duke Jr. that provided an energy boost, Brooklyn went on a 10-2 run to take a one-point lead (49-47) with 3:22 left in the second. In a half that included eight different lead changes, the Nets kept their foot on the gas and concluded the second outscoring the Spurs 21-6 to take a nine-point lead at the break (60-51).

Durant led the Nets with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field in 18 minutes. Harden got going in the second but his facilitating served volumes in the first half, tallying nine points, four rebounds and nine assists. Brooklyn’s bench compiled 17 points and the team shot 52.3 percent from the field but struggled from 3-point range (18.2 percent). A big difference maker was fastbreak points, where the Nets held a 16-4 edge in at the break.

San Antonio Spurs v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn continued to capitalize on their two biggest keys in the second quarter: defense and rebounding to propel their offense. The Nets grew their lead to 14 points (the largest lead of the contest) and maintained a double-digit advantage for the majority of the frame. Edwards provided a boost, hitting a pair of threes to go with the good defensive activity.

But again, It was a smooth ride that ended bumpily for Brooklyn. Despite leading by 14 entering the closing minutes of the third, the Nets paid the price of pairs of late quarter turnovers and the Spurs took full advantage, ending the frame on an 18-7 burst to cut the deficit to only two points.

San Antonio knotted the contest up in the opening minute of the fourth but Brooklyn quickly grew the advantage back up to double-digits behind the play of Harden and a pair of strong sequences from Day’Ron Sharpe. That wasn’t enough to shut the door as the Spurs came back and made it a one-possession game entering the final two minutes of play. After a four-minute 10-0 run capped with a Josh Primo three, the game was tied up at 113 with 40.2 seconds remaining.

The game ended up going to OT and Thomas delivered a clutch game-winning 10-foot floater with 1.7 seconds remaining to lift Brooklyn to the must-needed win with a tough stretch ahead. How tough? Five games in seven days including today. Kyrie Irving will only be eligible to play in two of them, Portland on Monday and Chicago on Wednesday.

The Film

It’s been a while since we’ve done a “diagram-a-play” film room, so let’s break down what was the biggest, most impactful shot of young Cam Thomas’ career. We’ll have the man himself introduce things.

“It was just a 1-4 flat for KD. A game-winner to take us home, but they came and doubled, so I was open and made a play,” said Cam Thomas. “It was either shoot a three or get to the hoop. I got to the hoop, did a floater. Just a good basketball play.”

For starters, you might be wondering: What the heck is 1-4 flat?

Below, we’ve cooked a diagram to answer that question. Basically, 1-4 flat is a form of spacing that places four players — Cam Thomas, Nicolas Claxton, James Harden, and Patty Mills, all of whom are highlighted by red arrows — along the baseline. What this does is create as much space as possible for one supercharged player, like Kevin Durant, to score in isolation.

As Cam mentioned, the plan was likely for Kevin Durant to take the Nets home with his teammates on standby in rebounding position.

But, the Spurs were ready for this. Instead of letting Durant go mano-a-mano with Keita Bates-Diop, San Antonio sent rookie Josh Primo over to double and force the ball out of KD’s hands. Noticing this, Thomas, originally “guarded” by Primo in the corner, makes himself available by rising up the wing.

Thomas catches, is run off the line by Jakob Poeltl, and then lofts a ridiculous wrong-footed runner going left with his momentum carrying him away from the basket, but it’s money. That shot has become a bit of a trademark for Killa Cam.

Don’t believe us? Go to the Summer League video tape...

After the game, KD described the play from his perspective, noting that he read the overtime situation much better than the final play of the fourth quarter — when he threw San Antonio a lifeline by barfing up a pull-up three-pointer over a similarly aggressive Spurs defense.

“Especially late in the game, no matter how I’ve been shooting the ball, I’m starting, well, I’ve been realizing that teams might run and jump me out there,” said KD. “I seen them coming up at the end of the regulation and rushed a three-pointer. I maybe should have waited a little bit, we probably could have got the same set at the end of regulation. But it was good to go through that. So when I seen it again in the overtime, I was able to slow down a bit and find cam and find Cam and he just showcased his brilliance.”

Kevin Durant offers encouragement to Klay Thompson

Kevin Durant knows what it’s like to miss time. After going down with a torn achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in 2019, he didn’t play for 552 days till last season. Klay Thompson, who went down in that same Finals, has missed 941 days with a variety of injuries and ailments. He’s back tonight and Durant offered words of encouragement.

Post-game, KD said his former teammate: “Talking to Klay the last couple years, you can feel it through text messages how excited he is to get back on the floor. I know every fan’s going to be tuned in. I’m looking forward to his return and hopefully healthy rest of the season and career. I’m glad he’s back.”

Pop on KD

Before the game, Gregg Popovich, coach of the gold medal-winning Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, had a date with one of players, Kevin Durant. Pop presented KD with the USA Basketball Men’s Player of the Year award. Durant had previously been named the outstanding men’s basketball player in Tokyo.

As he had when asked about his NBA championships — “No Duncan, no championships” — Pop gave full credit to Durant, “No Kevin, no gold.”

Milestone Watch

A biggie for the Spurs: Josh Primo became the youngest player in San Antonio history to start a game. Primo is 19 years, 14 days old. Tony Parker was 19 years, 143 days.

Kevin Durant keeps moving up lists. Here’s the latest from Nets PR... KD is now second on the lists, the longest single-season streaks of 20-point games in Nets NBA history:

23 - Vince Carter (2005-06)

18 - Kevin Durant (2021-22 - active)

18 - Vince Carter (2004-05)

Nets avoided a six-team home losing streak. Good thing for a lot of reasons, including this one from ESPN Stats&Info: Only two teams in NBA history have had a 5-game home losing streak in the same season they went on to win the Title: 1994-95 Rockets, 2020-21 Bucks.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Cleveland Cavaliers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

The Nets will travel cross-country to Portland to play the Trail Blazers in the second game of a back-to-back on Monday, Jan. 10. The game is scheduled to tip at 10:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Sunday afternoon’s game, check out Pounding The Rock — our sister site covering the Spurs.