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Kyrie Irving and Cam Thomas drop 51 combined points in heartbreaking 115-111 loss

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Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat Photo by Joseph Guzy/NBAE via Getty Images

Heartbreaker.

Brooklyn dropped its eleventh-straight game with a loss against the Miami Heat on Saturday, 115-111, at FTX Arena. Brooklyn drops to 29-27 on the season, 7.5 games behind first in the Eastern Conference, and eighth in the East overall. Brooklyn also falls to 2-0 against the #1 seeded Miami Heat on the season.

“This one hurt. We’re on an eleven-game now losing streak, we thought it was gonna be the one,” said Day’Ron Sharpe. “This next one (against Sacramento on Monday), we coming in and saying, ‘we winning this, no matter what.’”

Brooklyn was without two of its newcomers, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, and missing a bevy of crucial players — Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and LaMarcus Aldridge, just to name a few — yet put up an inspiring fight. After falling behind by as many as 21 points, the Nets clawed back to shrink the deficit to just one before eventually falling short.

“Outstanding performance,” said Steve Nash. “Upset for the guys. They worked their tails off, they deserved to win the game. Didn’t get many calls, didn’t get many breaks, didn’t get many loose ball bounces. They hung in there, had some shooting droughts, down 18, found a way to have a chance to win in the end against the top team.”

Even amidst a tumultuous week in which one-time franchise superstar James Harden was traded to a conference rival in Philadelphia, the Nets are holding their heads high, playing their hearts out, while pushing a top-tier team to the brink along the way. Here’s the best news of the night, courtesy of Kyrie Irving. A quick summary: The vibes are still good in the Brooklyn Nets locker room.

“I mean the vibe is good, the energy is good in the locker room. We understand that we’re shorthand and we’re making up things as we go along,” said Irving. But ultimately, it’s just having that persevering attitude. It’s not easy to go and clock in all these minutes, clock-in all the time day to day, and try to keep a smile on your face as much as possible when you’re going through a losing streak.”

Speaking of Irving, he led the way for Brooklyn with 29 points on 10-of-22 shooting against a variety of aggressive Miami Heat defensive coverages. Incredibly, he scored 18 straight for the Nets down the stretch before Cam Thomas hit a stepback three-point jumper. Irving’s 20-point fourth quarter marked the largest scoring bout he’s had as a Net in a single quarter.

“I was proud of Kai for staying with it,” said Nash. “He was having a rough night, he looked tired, and somehow was able to push through and play with fatigue and get 20 in the fourth, keep us in the game, and was incredible out there.”

Speaking of Thomas, he too dropped 20 points (22 to be exact) — the fourth time in five games that he’s accomplished this 20+ point feat. His rookie teammate Day’Ron Sharpe also tacked on 10 points and 12 rebounds en route to his second career double-double. And for the first time this season, three Nets rookies wound up with double figures with Kessler Edwards finishing with 13.

Miami, meanwhile, was led by balanced scoring from its mainstays. All five Miami starters (Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker, and Bam Adebayo) and two bench players (Tyler Herro and Gabe Vincent) eclipsed double-digit points, yet none of them broke 20 on the night. Talk about an egalitarian offense! Together, the Heat made half their baskets from the field.

Things kicked off with a virtual standoff for the majority of the first quarter. Blake Griffin was particularly active early, diving into the stands for loose balls and playing with physicality. Miami, meanwhile, thrived off a hot start from Duncan Robinson, who put up 8 quick points in 7 minutes. Then, at the 1:30 mark, Kyrie exited the game to the locker room. His teammates continued to keep fighting the good fight, and both squads finished the quarter tied at 26 apiece.

At about the 11:15 mark in the second quarter, Irving returned back to the bench — albeit with a slight limp. Meanwhile, Thomas began to shake loose, dialing up 11 points in 10 minutes off a series of short-midrange jumpers. Then, Miami’s 3-point shooting, which leads the league, began to kick in. The Heat canned 6 of their first 16 deep jumpers through the second as their lead stretched to eight. A late scoring run by Thomas from the short midrange (where else?) left the halftime score at 64-58, Miami.

Things start to go awry in the third quarter. Miami hit that extra gear; PJ Tucker dove to the floor for a loose ball and tipped it to Duncan Robinson in the corner for the three. Bam Adebayo went coast-to-coast for the and-1 layup. A Blake Griffin turnover out of a post-up led to a 16-3 run to start the period for Miami. Things got even worse when the Nets went on a 3-minute scoring drought as Miami’s advantage ballooned to 20. An 8-2 run from Brooklyn’s rookies narrowed Miami’s lead to 91-78.

Good vibes carried into the fourth. Patty Mills finally got himself going with two 3-pointers, cutting Miami’s lead to just eight. Then, Kyrie got going, too. Two big threes, including a gorgeous crowd-silencing pull-up in semi-transition from 28 feet out set the tone. He and Kyle Lowry started going back-and-forth — Irving hit a contested fall-away layup on one end, and Lowry punched back with a leaning eight-footer at about the halfway point in the fourth.

Irving wouldn’t stop. With four minutes left, he scored an impossible layup while dribbling through 4 Miami defenders, scoring 18-straight points for the Nets. Just when it looked like he was running out of gas, Thomas filled in with an enormous 3-pointer with 40 seconds to spare. One-point game.

Seriously, take a look at this shot from the rook. Ridiculous.

Jimmy Butler then responded with a big layup through contact. It was Irving’s turn to draw contact on PJ Tucker after an inbound and then nail two free throws. Butler split a pair of free throws on the other end, and suddenly the game was there for the taking for Brooklyn.

And that’s when the heartbreak came in.

With 14 seconds to spare, Brooklyn drew up an inbound play, and the intent was clear: get Kyrie Irving the ball. Unfortunately, Miami blew up the action with ample physicality, forcing the Nets to inbound the ball to rookie Cam Thomas. With the clock ticking, Thomas desperately tried to get the rock to Irving for the final shot, and the cunning Kyle Lowry stuck in an arm for a steal that pretty much sealed the game — PJ Tucker closed things out with two free throws.

“We didn’t free Kai,” said Nash about the final play. “That was what we were trying to do, so unfortunately we didn’t get it to him.”

The Film Room

Here’s a fun fact.

Only four players in the league are shooting 54 percent or better from 10-14 feet with at least 1.5 attempts per game (sometimes defined as “floater range” or the short-midrange).

Jalen Brunson.

Chris Paul.

Jrue Holiday

And Cam Thomas.

Oh, but guess what? The Net's 27th pick isn’t just a member of this prodigious grouping; he’s actually the league leader in short midrange field goal percentage. As a rookie!

As noted, Cam went on a short midrange tear to kickstart the game against Miami. He had 15 at halftime, for crying out loud! In fact, the dude was feeling himself so much he even called out Bam Adebayo out on a switch — no biggie, the best switch-big in the league — only to cross, jab-step, and pull up from three. This has been a trend for Cam to start the month of love (is that a nickname for February? someone help me, please). He’s shooting 36 percent from deep since February 1st on 25 attempts. Feast your eyes!

This kid’s the real deal.

Waiting is the hardest part

Although the Nets plan to patient in integrating Ben Simmons into their rotation, the two other players Brooklyn acquired Thursday were ready to play Saturday night. But the trade couldn’t be official until everyone reported to their new teams ... and passed their physicals.

So Seth Curry and Andre Drummond who would’ve played vs. the Heat had to sit and wait, unable to even practice, until James Harden got his physical. He arrived in Philadelphia from his home in Houston after 3:00 pm, greeted by Philly GM Daryl Morey.

There wasn’t enough time before the game to get the physical done and Curry and Drummond had to sit.

YES analyst Frank Isola saw the delay as quite possibly deliberate, the last piece of gamesmanship of Harden’s exit from Brooklyn.

“I think this was a little James Harden parting shot to Kyrie Irving. I’m not going to let you play with Drummond and Curry. The league should do something about this, it’s a joke,” said Isola, obviously incensed.

Again, the Nets and Sixers play at 7:30 p.m. ET on March 10.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Brooklyn Nets head home to host the new-look Sacramento Kings led by Domantas Sabonis in hopes of halting the 11-game skid. Of course, they’ll be without Kyrie Irving due to New York City’s vaccine mandate. Coverage begins at 7:30 on the YES Network.

For a different perspective, head to Hot Hot Hoops, our Heat sister site.