That was the message from the star of the Brooklyn Nets’ brutal Opening Night loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which they squandered a six-point lead, and a really fun 46.5 minutes, in the game’s final 90 seconds. Cam Thomas scored 36 points in just 25 minutes — that latter number its own source of discussion — and while he admitted it’s always nice to do well, he clocked one “flush it” per minute during his postgame presser.
And for good reason. The Nets were embarking on a four-game road trip, starting with a Friday night date with the Dallas Mavericks, where they’d face familiar faces in Seth Curry and Markieff Morris. And, oh yeah, Kyrie Irving. But the potential for revenge wasn’t all one-sided. Brooklyn was bringing three ex-Mavs to the party in Dennis Smith Jr., Spencer Dinwiddie, and Dorian Finney-Smith.
In the end, well...come on:
LUKA MAGIC.— NBA (@NBA) October 28, 2023
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU SAY.
4 straight threes... each getting progressively more difficult and more clutch... to reach 49 points and give Dallas the win.
Special stuff from a superstar. pic.twitter.com/4uCvy2Qdfe
That’s the official NBA account writing a better game recap than these next few hundred words will comprise.
Irving was fine but not great, nearly invisible for large stretches of the game. That storyline was a huge dud, thanks to solid Brooklyn defense on Irving, and the ex-Net mostly getting the hell out of the way for Luka Doncic to be Luka Doncic.
Once again, the Nets played a fun, very solid game of basketball against a real opponent. This time around, they made even fewer mistakes than they did in the opener; Brooklyn didn’t throw this game away. But thanks to a combination of quintessential Luka Magic and the excruciating potion the Nets franchise is soaked in that ensures every loss and obstacle it faces is as painful as possible, Doncic and the Mavericks took it.
Final score: Dallas 125, Brooklyn 120. But that wasn’t half the story.
After a back-and-forth first half, even the biggest Brooklyn skeptics had to raise their eyebrows a little: This team, once again, was looking fun! Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith combined to hit seven 3-pointers before the break in their Texas returns, and the whole team was enjoying it.
Spencer Dinwiddie has hit four 3-pointers in the first half, and everybody, including him, is loving it: pic.twitter.com/Exx2PUVKuh— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) October 28, 2023
With Nic Claxton out with an ankle sprain, the drop coverage Brooklyn had consistently deployed on Opening Night was abandoned. So was backup center Day’Ron Sharpe: Sharpe’s three-minute stint in the first half was the only playing time he saw.
Said Jacque Vaughn: “I wanted to play Day’Ron more, just, we talked about before the game how good Luka is and [Irving] is against the coverage that Day’Ron would be be in. I thought [Finney-Smith] was extremely physical for us on both ends of the floor.”
Between Finney-Smith and Ben Simmons, the Nets resembled the team we saw after the deadline last season, where switching was the M.O. and length and physicality were desired substitutes for pure size, mostly sticking with those two at the center position. By and large, it worked.
Brooklyn out-rebounded Dallas on the night, 47-to-40, and even blocked more shots (4-to-2).
The Nets were playing what seems like it will become their brand of basketball this season, with everybody contributing. Thomas started slow, making two of his first six shots, so the Nets played a three-guard lineup with Dinwiddie, Dennis Smith Jr., and, making his debut with the team, Lonnie Walker IV.
Walker, who led Brooklyn in bench scoring with 14 points, brought the occasional unbound energy (two charging fouls) and shot-making the Nets were expecting when they signed him for the minimum this summer. After being a healthy DNP against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he played 21 big minutes on Friday night, while throwing a couple highlights in there:
If you let his head coach tell it, Walker’s production will mirror Friday’s game far more closely than a DNP:
“He was scheduled to play minutes on our first game, and the way the game unfolded, I went to him and told him, really, I was going to roll with the group that we had, the then that we were playing,” said Vaughn. “And then, for him to be ready and give the effort, and be locked in tonight on the second game, extremely pleased with that. I think he’s gonna be an individual that we’re going to grow to really love having on the floor on both ends.
Thomas, starting for the injured Cam Johnson, struggled at first, but the Nets were finding scoring elsewhere. Then, the third-year guard closed the first half with eight quick points. Mikal Bridges started the game on fire, scoring ten quick points...
...but finished the game with just 18, shooting 2-of-12 after starting 4-of-5, and a big zero in the fourth. “Just missing shots, missing layups, misses my teammates open. I Just got to be better,” said Bridges, obviously distraught.
But when one star fell, another rose, and the Nets picked each other up to the tune of a 59-57 half-time lead.
Ben Simmons was devastatingly allergic to contact in the first half, and the worries from Wednesday night about his passivity only grew louder. Yet, when the second half started, he looked much more comfortable making plays happen. The stat-line won’t reflect it, as his 10/10/8 stat-line was pretty evenly distributed across each half, but the physicality was much improved after intermission:
Ben Simmons takes it right at Maxi Kleber, a very welcome sight for Nets fans: pic.twitter.com/qXJrNfg9xV— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) October 28, 2023
So, the Brooklyn Nets kept chugging along, with Thomas taking over for Bridges as the primary scorer, continuing the rampage he started at the end of the first half. Dinwiddie hit another two 3-pointers to open the third quarter, ultimately finishing with 23 points and eights assists, as the Nets built a game-high lead of seven midway through the third.
Doncic was on his way to another dominant performance, sure, but he wasn't getting much help. Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t afraid to shoot the rock, but maybe he should’ve been — he need 17 shots to score 19 points. And Kyrie Irving, the man of the hour, at least by way of intrigue, hardly made a peep. He scored six quick points early in the final frame, but that was the only burst of production. His eventual 17/7/6 line looked fine, but he, like Hardaway Jr. (and Bridges) shot just 6/17. So much for revenge.
Vaughn attributed Irving’s rough night to “the mindset defensively. I think we changed coverages throughout the course of the night to give different looks like we talked about before the game. I thought our guys were mentally in it to respond. And we started with the physicality, and so we contested a lot of shots.”
But Irving, Hardaway, and the rest of an underwhelming Mavericks cast did juuust enough to keep them in it. And that’s all they needed to ensure a front row seat to freaking Luka Doncic.
Doncic saw his frustrations with the referees bleed into a porous defensive performance in the first half completely negated that with a generational offensive brilliance in second. In another word, just another day at the office for the Slovenian. But what an office it was!
After a six-point burst by Irving, Doncic checked into a one-point Mavs deficit with six minutes left. Royce O’Neale hit huge, consecutive 3-pointers to put his Nets up five late...
...and Finney-Smith hit his fourth trey of the game, finishing with 12 points.
Thomas played seven fourth-quarter minutes, though Nets fans will certainly feel slighted and argue that it felt like less, given more of the constant offense-defense subbing patterns that Vaughn also used on Opening Night. Yet, Thomas was on the floor to record his 30th point of the night, and it was a CT special: a step-back jack that covered ten feet of space, tying the game at 120 as the seconds ticked away:
Let it be remembered that Cam Thomas hit 30 points with this game-tying iso bucket with under a minute left: pic.twitter.com/IEvRJ5vNrL— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) October 28, 2023
Thomas, O’Neale, and Finney-Smith were just battling Luka though. Or maybe they were battling the inevitable. The Nets played tremendous defense on just about every possession Doncic cashed a 3-pointer on, yet they all felt good the moment they left his hand. Does it say more about the future Hall-of-Famer or the Nets fan’s plight that they knew this crazy attempt was going in before it did?
“I saw it was like two or three seconds left, it’s like, ‘I gotta put it up,’” said Doncic. “Gotta touch the rim so we can have a chance to rebound, but I don’t know how I made it.”
Unlike Wednesday night, Vaughn drew up the final play for Cam Thomas to take a 3-pointer, rather than watch it breaking down and forcing a shot, but the result was the same. Thomas, despite another 30-ball, couldn’t hit a ridiculously tough, contested, three to save the day.
Perhaps the Nets are just another one of Luka’s victims, a fat list that will certainly grow even fatter over his fine career. Perhaps it’s only right that the Nets, viewed as uncertain by many entering the season, could show this many positives over two games and still come away with two losses that couldn’t make you feel worse if you tried.
But again. It’s probably just both.
Dorian Finney-Smith spent the first six-and-a-half seasons of his NBA career in Dallas before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets, along with Spencer Dinwiddie. Thanks to both his physical, unrelenting play and fostering a deep connection with the Dallas community and his peers, he became a fan favorite.
The Mavericks honored him appropriately with a video tribute prior to the actio
Dorian Finney-Smith gets a video tribute during Starting Lineup Introductions— Nick Angstadt (@NickVanExit) October 28, 2023
Mavs fans react appropriately pic.twitter.com/wYkEqU1owT
“Dallas is like a second home to me, so I know it’s probably going to be a little emotional, but it’s going to be fun,” said DFS prior to the game.
Spencer Dinwiddie was a Maverick for just a-season-and-a-half, but boy did he treat Friday like a revenge game, with his 23 and eight performance featuring six triples. (Brooklyn as a whole shot 43 triples after taking just 27 vs. Cleveland.) Perhaps Dallas was trying to prevent such an outburst when they played Dinwiddie a tribute video as well…
The Mavericks give Spencer Dinwiddie a tribute video midway through the opening period. pic.twitter.com/EjUX7AS7zS— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) October 28, 2023
…but it didn’t work.
There was no such video for Dennis Smith Jr., who was drafted by Dallas in 2017, and like Dinwiddie, played just a season-and-a-half with the organization.
A Familiar Face
Markieff Morris did not appear in this one, and Seth Curry played just nine minutes and scored two points. Of all the familiar faces to Brooklyn fans, they saw Kyrie Irving the most (34 minutes) while reveling in his uncharacteristically poor performance that could’ve been sweeter with a loss.
The only hint of drama we got on the court was an exceptionally physical foul that Irving committed on Simmons, though it wasn’t enough to get called for a flagrant:
Little something extra on this Kyrie foul vs. Ben: pic.twitter.com/GxtXe76Zl8— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) October 28, 2023
On Thursday, a day prior to Nets-Mavs, Kyrie Irving had this to say about his former franchise, per Brian Lewis of the NY Post:
Kyrie on #Nets: “I said there was some disrespectful things going on behind the scenes. That happens in every organization so its not out of the ordinary to (say) that; but when it's me, it's a Firestarter. Everyone loves to use my name to build up whatever credibility they need” pic.twitter.com/LhXCiGG1IR— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) October 26, 2023
However, the festivities in Dallas were largely without incident — Kyrie’s said much more, um, explosive things before, and had more explosive games than his 17-point performance against Brooklyn. Time to move on, if we haven’t already.
Maybe we should rename this section, “Cam Thomas Watch.”
- Cam Thomas scored 30 points after scoring 36 points in the season opener. Thomas is the first player in the Nets NBA history to record 30+ points in each of the team’s first two games of a season. Not Vince Carter, not Brook Lopez, not Kevin Durant, not Kyrie Irving, not James Harden.
- In his five starts as an NBA player, Thomas is averaging 32.6 points. The only other player in the last 40 years to average better than 30 points a game as a starter — minimum of five starts — is Michael Jordan, who averaged 30.5 points in his 1,039 starts. (Okay, okay.)
- At 33.0 ppg, Thomas is now the fifth leading score in the NBA behind Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Steph Curry. He is the only one of the five to average fewer than 30 minutes a game.
As mentioned, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton each missed Friday’s game with lower-leg injuries. (Calf and ankle, respectively.) Yet, it seems like neither injury is a cause for long-term concern, despite them being serious enough to cause absences this early in the season.
Per Lewis, Vaughn said the Nets are just “being precautious” with Cam Johnson, and referred to Nic Claxton as “day-to-day,” a designation also applicable to Johnson. Vaughn also clarified that Johnson’s calf issue was unrelated to the hamstring issue that kept him out of pre-season action.
Johnson and Claxton’s next chance to play will be in Charlotte, where Brooklyn continues their four-game road trip in search of the season’s inaugural victory. Tip-off between the Brooklyn Nets and the Charlotte Hornets is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on Monday night, giving Brooklyn two full off-days to recover.
- Box Score: Dallas Mavericks 125, Brooklyn Nets 120 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Dallas Mavericks 125, Brooklyn Nets 120 (Video) - NBA
- Final 3:17 wild ending: Nets vs Mavericks (Video) - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn talks Nets’ loss to Luka, Mavericks (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas discusses his 30-point game against the Mavs (Video) - YES Network
- Mikal Bridges on Brooklyn’s loss to Dallas (Video) - YES Network
- Just Being Frank with Frank Isola (Video) - YES Network
- Doncic scores 49 and hits a late right-handed 3-point heave as the Mavericks beat the Nets 125-120 - AP
- Luka Doncic (49 points) hits clutch shots as Mavs top Nets - Reuters
- Nets hold Kyrie Irving in check but bested by Luka Doncic in loss to Mavericks - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Nic Claxton, Cam Johnson day to day after sitting vs. Mavericks - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- On a Nets team starved for offense, Cam Thomas’ scoring may be impossible to keep out of the lineup anymore - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Mavericks’ Luka Doncic’s game-winner sinks Nets, lifts Kyrie Irving in first game since trade - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Nets’ Cam Thomas discusses relationship with Kyrie Irving before first game against him since Mavericks trade - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Kyrie Irving praises ex-Nets teammate Cam Thomas after torrid start: ‘This is nothing new for me’ - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Nets fall just short to Mavericks, Kyrie Irving in first post-trade tip-off - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Cam Johnson (calf) joins Nic Claxton on Nets’ bench - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Cam Thomas’ connection to Kyrie Irving runs deep - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets guard Cam Thomas enters Michael Jordan territory with impressive scoring streak - Jedd Pagaduan - Clutch Points
- Luka Doncic’s circus shot proves a game-winner for Mavericks - Tim MacMahon - ESPN
- The ‘Luka special’: Doncic’s insane shot, 49 points lift Mavs over Nets in home opener - Brad Townsend - Dallas Morning News