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Mikal Bridges 15 straight points, 45 overall give Nets win over Heat, 116-105

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Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Miami Heat paid a visit to the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center Wednesday night. It was the first meeting between the two squads since Kevin Durant’s MCL Sprain in South Beach, which turned out to be the last of his Nets tenure.

While Mikal Bridges isn’t going to make Nets fans forget KD, he created his own memories Wednesday by scoring a career-high 45, taking over a close game in the fourth and making it his alone.

Final score: Brooklyn Nets 126, Miami 105, the Nets first win since Durant and Kyrie Irving were traded and all the new Nets were cleared to play.

The game served as an especially important matchup for Brooklyn and Miami, who entered the evening as the fifth and sixth seeds in the East, respectively, with only a game and a half of difference in the standings.

The Nets started off hot in the first quarter, led by their most newsworthy acquisition from last week’s trade deadline, Bridges. The versatile two-way forward showed out with 12 points in the first period on 5-of-6 shooting while also swatting two shots. Bridges often played an off-ball role in Phoenix to complement the ball-handling wizardry of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, but has been featured as more of a self-creator as a Net. He did so in his first stint on the floor with multiple self-created mid-range jump shots.

“My teammates kept finding me. They felt I had it going and just kept getting me the ball and set screens and let me operate and coach just drawing stuff up too,” Bridges said on his career-high showing postgame. “They gave me the confidence to go out there and just be aggressive, but man, I want to do all that and win, too. I just feel like if you do all that and lose, it’s kind of like an empty stat to me. I’m just happy we got the W and everybody played well.”

After struggling against the New York Knicks on Monday, newly-appointed backup center Ben Simmons checked in early against Miami, replacing Nic Claxton to play the final eight minutes of the first quarter. He had two strong rolls to the basket after stepping onto the floor — laying the ball in on a feed from Bridges and then finding Mikal in the corner for three — but still struggled with illegal screens and general passiveness. Despite it all, the Nets were in front by a point, 26-25, after a deep side-step three from Spencer Dinwiddie in the closing seconds.

The Nets maintained their advantage for most of the first half, but an 8-0 run from Miami mid-way through the second period gave the Heat their first lead. The Heat also led at halftime, 56-52. Bridges led the scoring for the Nets at the break with 17 points, while Simmons out-played Claxton at the center spot, earning 11 minutes to his teammate’s eight.

The trend continued in the third quarter with more strong play from Miami, but the visiting Heat couldn’t extend their lead past six points. A strong run from Brooklyn was capped off by a Joe Harris 3-pointer with 3:22 left that gave the Nets their first lead of the second half, 73-72. They entered the final 12 minutes of action with a three-point cushion after a phenomenal touchdown pass from Simmons to Bridges in the final seconds.

“That was crazy. He [Bridges] was in the zone,” Cam Johnson said of Bridges game. “You know, making plays and buckets on top in all different ways.

The fourth quarter began as a close affair, but a 8-0 Mikal Bridges run at the midpoint not only gave him a career-high in points, but also handed the Nets a nine-point lead, their largest advantage up to that point. Bridges ended up scoring 15 straight and his team’s lead became ten, then twelve...

A dunk off a baseline cut with 1:41 remaining gave Bridges 45 points and the Nets a 14-point lead, acting as the dagger sending the Heat packing and putting his teammates in a celebratory mood after a tough loss to the 76ers and a blowout at Madison Square Garden...

Those good feelings continued post-game in the Nets locker room...

“Way to wait till you get to us to get to 45,” Vaughn joked with Bridges.

As he told the media post-game, it wasn’t just the numbers that impressed.

“Overall, it’s his spirit, energy, and juice even at the walkthrough today. He had the mindset of like he wasn’t going to let us lose,” Vaughn said. “He had it going early and really just had some good looks to go down. The threes were able to go down for him. But overall, it was his attitude and mindset of not letting us not go away with a win tonight.”

Bridges, it should be noted, did most of his damage against Jimmy Butler, the Heat’s top defender and a five-time All-Defensive team member. Bridges also defended Butler who finished with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting (36.4%).

With the victory, the Nets sit at 34-24, fifth in the East standings with a nine-day layoff heading into the All-Star break. If the playoffs began today, the Nets would face the Cavaliers in the first round. They are now 2-2 without KD and Kyrie.

Film Room

Our Lucas Kaplan, who’s preparing a more in-depth Film Study of Mikal Bridges as a Net, offered this short take on what he saw Wednesday night...

Milestone Watch

  • Mikal Bridges’ 45 points was not just his career-high. It was only the third 30-point game of his career The previous highest-scoring games of Bridges’ career:

34 points - 1/9/21 w/ Phoenix at Indiana

31 points - 11/9/22 w/ Phoenix at Minnesota

  • Bridges 45 points were the second most points scored in a game by a Nets player acquired in-season ... ever. The others:

50 pts - John Williamson - 4/4/78 at Indiana (acquired from IND).

45 pts - Mikal Bridges - tonight vs. Miami (acquired from PHX).

45 pts - Vince Carter - 4/9/05 vs. Boston (acquired from TOR).

  • Players with 45+ points, 5+ rebounds, 5+ assists, multiple steals and multiple blocks in a game in Nets history:

—Kevin Durant - 11/28/22 vs. Orlando

—Mikal Bridges - tonight vs. Miami

That’s the list.

  • Bridges is the fourth Net to score 40 points in a game this season. Kyrie Irving (48), Cam Thomas (47), Kevin Durant and Cam Bridges (both 45.) That’s never happened before in NBA history.

In Bridges three games with the Nets, he’s averaging 25.0 ppg on 54/57/87 shooting splits as well as 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks.

Mikal Bridges gifts his jersey to Mom

After his virtuoso performance, Mikal Bridges knew exactly what he was going to with his jersey...

That’s Tyneeha Rivers, Bridges’ mom, who raised him in Overbrook, the same Philly neighborhood that produced Wilt Chamberlain and a number of other NBA players. She was Global Vice President of Human Resources for the parent company of the 76ers when Philly drafted her son in 2018, then traded him an hour later. How’d that work out?

Cam Thomas adjusting

He didn’t score 40 points like Mikal Bridges — and as he did a couple of weeks ago on three straight nights. With the new look Nets, the 21-year-old is now the player some have compared to him: Vinnie Johnson, the Pistons “microwave” scorer back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, a guy who a coach could count on to get buckets.

Thomas scored 19 points in 21 minutes Wednesday, going 3-of-5 from deep, and providing a a spark that kept Brooklyn in the game till Bridges took over. He was asked about adjusting to a new role after taking off as an NBA scorer . He responded stoically, “doing my job. That’s about it,” then agreed the adjustment is “tough, for sure, but just have to figure it out and move on from there.” He did not look happy at all, but that’s Cam. Ain’t shit funny, you know.

Here’s the full press conference...

His coach said that he was pleased with Thomas’ performance vs. Miami and gently told his young charge, get used to it.

“I think that’s an ideal picture,” Jacque Vaughn said of Thomas game. “For him to come off the bench and have the attention that he got, to be able to make shots for us, to be able to create for us.

“It was a little bit of a lull in our offense before he checked in, and he has the ability to create shots for us, so we really needed it tonight. I thought he was composed. I thought he used each possession and was pretty efficient with it, making the right decisions, which is growth for him.

“So definitely more so what we wanted to see.”

Thomas has been one of the NBA’s top scorers this month, as Nets PR pointed out pre-game...

Entering tonight’s game, the East’s leading scorers this month:

Antetokounmpo - 37.0 ppg

Brunson - 32.5 ppg

Embiid - 30.7 ppg

Porzingis - 29.0 ppg

Cam - 27.7 ppg

Vaughn also said that as he figures out his new roster, the rotation will shrink and indeed vs. the Heat, with everyone healthy, he played 10 players, with Day’Ron Sharpe, Yuta Watanabe, Edmond Sumner and Patty Mills all sitting with DNP-CDs. Expect more shrinkage by the playoffs, Vaughn noted.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s Next?

They’ll return from All-Star Break against the Bulls in Chicago on Friday, February 24. Who’s going to Utah? So far, only David Duke Jr. is headed to Salt Lake City for the G League equivalent of the All-Star Game, the Get Up Challenge which takes place at 3:00 p.m. Saturday. It will air on YouTube’s G League channel. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, of course, will be on hand, having been selected while Nets.