The Nets dropped their second in a row to Milwaukee after stringing together three straight victories. While a close loss always stings, Nets fans should be somewhat to numb to that pain even amidst this young season. Some Cam Thomas flamethrower highlights might help the pill go down easier too.
Cam Thomas was scorching in Brooklyn against the Bucks— NBA (@NBA) November 7, 2023
51% FG pic.twitter.com/zI4dLmDjSJ
So might this: The Nets have two players averaging better than 20 points — Cam Thomas at 28.7 and Mikal Bridges at 21.9 — and one averaging better than 10 boards — Ben Simmons.
Brooklyn fell by a finale score of 129-125. They had their fair share of opportunities to snag their first home victory, but the ball didn’t bounce their way, particularly around the rim as Dorain Finney-Smith and Cam Thomas just missed two key shots down the stretch. As Brooklyn submerges back under .500, here’s a few things to gather.
There’s No Reason to be Worried About Mikal
The “what’s wrong with Mikal Bridges?” narrative that spilled onto Nets Twitter last week was frankly absurd. My only guess is that it came about due to some sort of PTSD that Brooklyn fans have.
Having seen their team suffer from poorly timed injuries, late game losses, and overall more drama than a day-time slate on CBS, I can understand fans harboring a “what can go wrong will go wrong” feeling of dread in regard to their team. Their crowning jewel from the trade deadline last year being exposed as fraudulent would have certainly played into that.
But that doesn’t make that mindset right or the take that correct. In fact, both are entirely incorrect.
After tonight, Bridges is averaging the aforementioned 21.9 points plus 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.3 stocks per game. He also posted 48/33/90 shooting splits. No, those numbers are not as high as the scorching figures he put up after coming over at the trade deadline, but they’re still more than solid at this point in the season.
Regardless, he was “back” tonight if you’re a part of that crowd that ever believed he was gone.
Bridges poured in 31 points while shooting 12-of-21 from the field. He got going early as well, scoring a quick seven points in less than five minutes. With the Bucks playing a drop defense and Brook Lopez concentrated on protecting the rim, Bridges had an easy time penetrating and then floating around in the mid-range area to find space on his pull-ups.
“I think just being aggressive,” said Bridges when asked about the key to his night offensively. “Just try to do whatever it takes to win. I love being aggressive. I’m aggressive. So just having the mindset to come out aggressive from the jump ball and just stay with it from the whole game.”
Bridges also added four assists, five rebounds, and came away with a blocked shot. He also worked his way to the line frequently, building on a new facet of his game that did not really exist in Phoenix and we only saw partially during his 27 games in Brooklyn last year.
I’ve been singing Cam Thomas’ praises as loud as anyone this year, but Bridges is just as important, if not more when you really consider his two-way skillset. Had the Nets won, you would have seen plenty of tweets about him tonight from the Legion Hoops’ of the world flashing his stats with a bunch of fire emojis.
This Nets Team Does Not Play Scared
The Nets never played scared during their star era — not that they ever should have. They had an arsenal of bucket-getters and it was fun to watch Durant and company pull it from anywhere with confidence.
The team’s makeup has since changed, but that mentality persists. At least, with some exception to Ben Simmons who played timid tonight. For the most part though, this Nets team does not play scared.
Even with the Milwaukee Bucks off to a mediocre start this year, they still remain one of the league’s more intimidating forces given their star power behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard. The Nets especially know of the Greak Freak’s prowess having gone to seven with him in the playoffs two years ago.
But as for Lillard, Thomas was asked the future Hall of Fame guard this morning, specifically on his ability to shoot it off the bounce. When questioned if Lillard is “the best” at such plays, Thomas chuckled and said that he believes he is...
Is Damian Lillard the best contested, off the bounce 3-point shooter in the league?— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 6, 2023
“I think I am,” says Cam Thomas with a smile. Adds that you can’t get discouraged when Dame makes those shots: pic.twitter.com/PfOIKH0SPD
Hours later, he’d make a pretty good case for himself, burying one from the logo — a spot where Lillard has made a living even berthed one of his many alter egos in “Logo Lillard.”
Cam Thomas' reaction after hitting the deep three over Dame pic.twitter.com/VPmlF8lgVl— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 7, 2023
This wasn’t the first of such shots for Thomas and likely won’t be the last. He never shies away from the moment and is perhaps the best example of Brooklyn’s willingness to go toe-to-toe with the best even without the best odds.
“I think he can score the basketball against anyone in this league,” said Jacque Vaughn postgame. “I think he has the confidence to do that and we’re gonna try to put him in positions where he’s helping us win whether that’s creating for himself or creating for others.”
Thomas was truly a sight to behold tonight, but it’s easier to look brave when you have it going. His fellow draft class member Day’Ron Sharpe did not tonight, only logging about eight minutes.
However, the Nets repeatedly threw him the ball inside during his brief stint on the floor tonight. Call it foolish if you want, but Brooklyn again did not duck and run, and instead tried to attack arguably the game’s best inside defenders in Giannis. He finished with just four points on three shots. Two of them were direction on top of Antetokounmpo’s head.
It’s nothing to ride home about especially after a loss. I’d even bet most of you have forgotten about it at this point. But it was a nice tidbit that showed he alongside Thomas will try and play their game against anyone.
Lonnie Walker IV is your 6MOTY Guy, not Cam Thomas
The line above might look like a slight at Thomas for those unfamiliar with how the Nets have been playing this year, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a compliment to both Thomas and Walker IV.
Thomas has surpassed expectations thus far and is more likely than not to earn more starts than sits this season. Then in that sixth man role vacated by him, Walker IV has slid in nicely — nicely enough to warrant some looks as an award winner if he keeps it up through t he course of the season.
Tonight against the Bucks, Walker IV put up a season-high-tying 19 points 8-of-14 shooting. He hit a massive three to cut Milwaukee’s led to one with about seven and a half to go in the fourth. It also helped re-kindle a 12-0 run for Brooklyn that could have easily been simmered out after Bobby Portis nearly flagrantly fouled Mikal Bridges and forced a time out.
For the season, he’s now averaging 15.5 points per game on red hot 52/43/74 splits in six games played. He’s come off the bench in all of those contests, putting himself in about as good as position you can be in for the Sixth Man of the Year award at this point.
To be fair, that’s not saying much with the 2023-24 campaign less than three weeks old. But for now, it does resemble the Nets successfully and simultaneously moving two guys up the totem pole. It’s also another testament to their depth which has been celebrated often already this year, most notably after the team’s gutsy win against the Miami Heat last week.
Then, you remember that at this point last season, after seven games, the Nets were 2-5, had just fired Steve Nash and were reeling from Kyrie Irving’s endorsement of a video filled with antisemitic tropes. To paraphrase Joe Johnson, it ain’t that bad now.