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Cam Thomas scores 31 points but Nets lose in last minute in Summer League debut

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2022 NBA Summer League - Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

With Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton and Royce O’Neale on the sidelines, Cam Thomas once again proved he owns the NBA Summer League by dropping 31 points — 17 in the fourth quarter — but a big comeback failed at the end and the Bucks beat the Nets in Las Vegas, 94-90.

Thomas, who averaged 27.0 points and was Summer League Co-MVP last year, finished 11-of-23, but only 1-of-6 from deep, including a couple of late misses. Thomas almost single-handedly brought Brooklyn back from a 17-point deficit at the start of the fourth, getting the Nets within three with 25.2 seconds left. The LSU product missed two deep 3-point attempts, one from 28 feet and another from 26 after that. Both were good looks, but Milwaukee survived.

Here’s some game highlights...

“It’s real different, just being more comfortable knowing what to expect,” said Thomas before the game. “So I’d say this year I’m more like prepared to what’s to come for summer league. So I’m just excited to be part of it.”

“Cam’s gotten so much better,” said Adam Caporn, the Nets Summer League coach and newly appointed Brooklyn assistant. “I’m really proud of him, working really hard. He can score, he’s an elite scorer. He’s going to score and we’re going to put the ball in his hand. I know he’s really grown as a defender, and he’s a guy that he’ll just make a lot of good decisions, underrated passer, willing passer.

“He’s done a good job leading this group. The last couple of days he’s practiced really hard, had a great attitude. The leadership responsibilities are the things that grow the most in the second year. He’s gotten better, I will say that.”

Indeed, Brian Lewis reports Saturday that the Nets have received offers for Thomas.

Thomas was one of two Nets in double figures. David Duke Jr., who is a restricted free agent, had 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including 3-of-9 from beyond the arc. Duke Jr. looked more polished than last season. Only he and Thomas played more than 30 minutes in the 40-minute game.

The Providence product told reporters that he had rejected a Nets offer of a second straight two-way deal and instead hopes for a full-time roster spot.

“Well, you know, I’m always going to strive for the most that I can get, right? So if there’s a roster spot to strive for that, then whatever happens from there, happens,” Duke said. “But like I said, I’m just out here trying to play the best that I can, show what I can bring to Brooklyn, to whoever. And that’s just my mindset.”

The difference between a two-way and standard NBA contract is a half million dollars. Duke is a restricted free agent.

As for the other current Nets, there was mixed news to report. Kessler Edwards didn’t his first shot till 1:14 in the fourth. He finished with only five points on 1-of-6 shooting. He also had a hard time guarding Marjon Beauchamp, the Bucks 6’6” rookie wing who finished with 16 points. Day’Ron Sharpe, looking slimmed down, had eight points and 10 boards but went 0-of-2 from deep. Meanwhile, RaiQuan Gray, the Nets 59th pick in the 2021 Draft, looked good, with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting as well as seven boards and four assists in 23 minutes.

Alondes Williams, who signed a two-way with the Nets this week, had a tough pro debut, scoring only two points on 1-of-6 shooting. The former Wake Forest point guard didn’t record an assist in 23 minutes but grabbed five boards. More than one of his passes found an open player who didn’t connect, including missed alley-oop by Sharpe in the third.

Of the other undrafted rooks, Noah Kirkwood, a 6’7” shooting guard out of Harvard, had a perfect 3-of-3 including two 3-pointers, finishing with eight points. And UNLV’s 6’7” Donovan Williams had one of the game highlights for the Nets.

The Nets went up double figures early but the Bucks, who shot 51.5 percent from three for the game, went up by four, 44-40, at the half. Then, in the third quarter, they blasted the sloppy Nets, 28-15, setting up the fourth quarter drama.

Simmons, with his fiancée Maya Jama, sat courtside in the second half, escorted into Cox Pavilion by Nets security director Fred Galloway...

Claxton, adorned in a vintage New Jersey Nets t-shirt — “Have to support the OGs,” said he had spoken with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving recently. Asked if he was recruiting the two, Claxton laughed and said, “That’s above my pay grade.”

He added the Nets have “unfinished business” no matter who is on the roster.

“I feel like we’ve got unfinished business, regardless of who’s going to be rocking with us next year,” Claxton said. “I’m ready to come out and just make a difference, continue to get better and help us win games.”

For O’Neale, he took the news of his trade from Utah as good news. The trade that brought him to the Nets cost them the lesser of the Nets and 76ers picks the team control in 2023. It was announced within minutes of Durant’s request to be traded.

“My news I thought was great, and that happened and I was ‘oh.’ I feel like my news went under the rug a little bit,” O’Neale said in his first comments since the June 27 trade. “But I’m excited. It’s going to be fun. Brooklyn’s a change from Utah. Definitely going to be a great experience.

“[I’ll help] any way I can. Just try to be the guy I’ve been doing, not be anyone I’m not. But I know what got me here and what’s going to keep me being here, so just learning any way I can and doing what I got to do offensively and defensively.”

O’Neale told reporters that he got a call from Taurean Prince, his fellow Baylor Bear and former Net shortly after the trade. “You’re going to love it there,” Prince told him.

O’Neale told reporters that he heard from Simmons and Patty Mills since he joined the Nets. Per Alex Schiffer’s reporting. Donovan Mitchell also called him to rave about Joe Harris, who Mitchell played with on Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Two Phoenix Suns fans tracked down Sean Marks on the concourse pre-game, but he had no comment on the status of his two superstars or trade talks with the Suns.

The Nets next play the 76ers at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center (NBA TV); the Grizzlies at 6:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday at the Cox Pavilion (ESPNU) and their last scheduled game vs. the Timberwolves at 9:00 p.m. ET Thursday, also at Cox (ESPNU). The tournament element of the Summer League begins July 15 with the championship game on the afternoon of July 17.

Earlier Friday, the Nets made it official and signed Edmond Sumner to a vets minimum deal.