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Nets fall to Suns, 116-112, as Cam Thomas breaks 40-mark for third consecutive game

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Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Tonight, Nets fans knew what was in store: a whole lot of Cam Thomas. If his 91 points over the past two games caught you off guard, as they did much of the general NBA fanbase, OK. But you had no excuse tonight, with the LSU product getting his second start of the season, just the third in his blossoming career. The newly-acquired Spencer Dinwiddie wasn’t available just yet, and although Ben Simmons did make his first appearance in nearly two weeks, he was only bringing 7.4 points-per-game with him. Thomas would have the opportunity to shine, much to the delight of a Barclays Center crowd whose cheers for him have grown louder with every bucket.

The only question was whether the ever-undermanned Nets could put up a legitimate fight for the second-straight night against a Western Conference contender that, uncharacteristically, had their centerpieces healthy and ready to go. Monday night featured a contest against the L.A. Clippers that went down to the wire, ending in a tough, but nevertheless entertaining loss. Tuesday’s challenge was the Phoenix Suns, who were finally trotting out their ideal starting five, a unit that had only played 67 total minutes on the season heading into Brooklyn.

Well, Brooklyn certainly delivered on that question. They hung tough enough to make it an exciting contest before ultimately fading late, but not before Phoenix almost threw the game away in the final minute. There, some intentional fouling on both sides turned the ending into a slog, caused enough free throws for an entire, 48-minute contest, and juiced up the final score into a 116-112 Suns win that didn’t leave the Nets and their fans feeling too dejected.

“It was a great job of giving effort, and giving what they had back to back. But the little things are gonna matter for us now and going forward. Those little things are 16 turnovers and the 16 offensive rebounds,” said Jacque Vaughn post-game.

As for that Cam Thomas expectation? Well, the now-potentially budding superstar became the youngest player in NBA history to score 40 points in three straight games, getting to 43 of ‘em. Sizable credit goes to those final two minutes becoming a free-throw slog, with Thomas attempting ten freebies down the stretch of this one, only missing the tenth one … intentionally. But, you know, he scored 34 other points, 24 of which were in the first half, many of which were characteristically spectacular. He finished an absurd 18-of-20 from the free throw line, where fans had time to give him multiple MVP chants.

Over the three-game stretch, Thomas is averaging 43.7 points a game while shooting 56.0% overall and the same percentage from beyond the arc. At the line, he’s shooting 90%, a remarkable 36-of-40.

“That’s real surreal. I’m just glad I have my name in the history books, being this young. Obviously, I’d rather have the win...but’s it’s good to have my name in history, I’m still gonna embrace it,” said Thomas.

If you came to watch Cam cook, he shot the ball 43 damn times, adding up FGs and FTAs. Talk about delivering on an expectation.

Jacque Vaughn was quite proud of him after the game, saying, “It’s great that he’s getting to show what he’s capable of doing. I don’t think he’s ever get to a position where he doubted himself. I think for us as a group, an organization, we never doubted him. He’s taking full advantage of the opportunity and producing.”

As for the gaudy free-throw numbers, Thomas’ head coach recognized it as “something that Cam did coming out of college.” How does he do it? “He has the ability to get to the rim and force you to foul him because he’s strong. He has ability to make moves off the bounce and get you to react to him.” Vaughn also applauded Thomas “shooting more threes, which we talked about.”

Now, it wasn't perfect for Cam. He had some rough possessions as the primary option in the fourth quarter, failing to get into rhythm, posting more bricks and turnovers than highlights.

He offered one explanation as to why, after the contest: “Fatigue definitely caught up with me, I ain’t gonna lie. It caught up with me.”

But make no mistake, it was another successful night for a player now officially on his way in this league. Whatever you make of his previous lack of playing time, it’s going to be tough to put the genie back in the bottle now.

Anybody that tells you that there are no moral victories in sports is a liar. They’re much less satisfying than plain old, no-nonsense victories, duh. But they still exist. Just think about the second half of TNT’s Tuesday double-header, between the 25-28 OKC Thunder and the 25-29 L.A. Lakers.

There were a few junctures at which the Nets could have, on the second night of a back-to-back, wilted and died. After holding a 51-48 lead near the end of an exciting first half, Brooklyn couldn’t keep their hands on the ball, turning it over and watching defensive rebounds slip away. Phoenix ended the half on a 9-0 run, and took a six-point lead into the half. They continued their momentum by sprouting their lead to 65-55 just as fans were still finding their seats for the third quarter. It felt like the Nets’ fun little run over the past two nights was coming to an end.

Not quite. They ripped off a 12-0 run immediately by causing turnovers, getting out in transition, and making some threes. The fun would continue for at least a few more minutes.

That until the Suns took a 96-83 lead early in the fourth quarter. This time, it was it, right? Again, no. TJ Warren, who finished with 17 points in his most effective minutes in some time, and Dru Smith (yep) provided enough of a boost to rip off a 10-0 run, cutting the seemingly insurmountable lead to 96-93. For the second straight night, these Brooklyn Nets, comprising an eleven-man combination that would’ve inconceivable not too long ago, were locked in a tight one with an honest-to-God good team.

Jacque Vaughn didn’t credit his team’s resiliency to anything too complex: “Yeah, just overall just not giving in. And I think overall, we were still trying to figure out a way how to win this basketball game. So we increase the tempo, we start pressing a little bit, speeding them up, and then we were attacking the basket.”

Unfortunately, some things are what they seem. The Suns’ lead was insurmountable, mostly because Brooklyn, again, couldn’t stop allowing offensive rebounds and turning the ball over; DeAndre Ayton finished with 35 and 15 boards, six of them offensive. He only missed four of his 18 shots for a reason. It also didn’t help that Cam Thomas’ magic ran out just a bit too early. (The game was largely in hand, with the Suns playing prevent, no-threes defense, during the majority of the twelve fourth-quarter points that got him past that magical 40.) And it certainly didn’t help that Simmons, who drew some moderate boos from the ‘Clays crowd after one particularly uninspiring turnover, was unplayable down the stretch, sitting for the last seven minutes in favor of Dru Smith.

Post-game, asked about his situation, returning after missing five games, Simmons said, “it’s a process.”

“It’s been a process just getting back out there and trying to find some rhythm. … But it felt good. Just give to the team any way I can,” said Simmons, who twisted his ankle in the middle of the second quarter. Of that injury, Simmons said, “Its sore, but I’ll be fine.”

It’s hard to feel too happy about close losses to the Clippers and Suns on consecutive nights, particularly because both games were in reach. Alas, in order to attain a moral victory, the real thing has to be in reach.

But CamSanity is sweeping the nation, and, if you don’t look too far forward, or too far in the rearview mirror (at all, really), the present isn’t so bad. It doesn’t matter what pre-season expectations are, you’re allowed to enjoy a 21-year-old scoring 134 points over three games. Low bar, but there’s certainly been worse times to be a Nets fan.

Film Room

  • Big Cam Thomas film article coming soon, so I’m saving clips of him for later use, but how about the Nets drawing up a play for Nic Claxton to open the third quarter. I’m aware of who’s been traded, and who’s out, but still. We’ve come a long way:
  • If you missed the game, and are wondering why, despite a pretty positive recap, the Brooklyn Nets lost..just watch this:

Milestone Watch

  • Of course this, of all games, was going to have a hefty milestone watch. Cam Thomas is the first player in Nets’ NBA history to score 40+ points in three straight games. Rick Barry did it for the New Jersey Nets of the ABA.
  • His 131 points are also the most ever by a Nets player over three gams, breaking the record held by (wait for it) Kyrie Irving.
  • Cam Thomas also, as aforementioned, became the youngest player in NBA history to score 40+ points in three straight games. Only Allen Iverson can say he accomplished the same feat before his 22nd birthday.
  • Thomas’ 18-of-20 performance from the line also set a career-high in both makes and attempts.
  • Per YES Network’s Jeff Quagliata, since Wilt Chamberlain retired in 1973, 11 players have three straight games of 43+ points in NBA history:

Bob Love

Moses Malone (2)

Michael Jordan (3)

Kobe Bryant (2)

Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant

Devin Booker

James Harden (2)

Damian Lillard

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Cam Thomas

As Thomas himself said, “it’s real unreal.”

Kevin Durant update

When Kevin Durant went down on January 8, the narrative was his sprained MCL wasn’t as bad as the one that cost KD and the Nets 21 games, which included an 11-game losing streak and ultimately a chilling, 5-16 record.

It certainly isn’t as bad as that ... yet. After 14 games without KD, the Nets are 5-9, but even though the Nets tried to put a positive spin on things, with Jacque Vaughn saying a re-evaluation Monday was a “really good report” and there’s a chance Durant might return before the All-Star Break which begins February 17, Adrian Wojnarowski threw cold water on the possibility.

That would mean KD may miss another four games, bringing the total lost to 18 games, not much better than the 21 last season. Whether the Nets record will be better this year than last is still uncertain.

Vaughn did say Durant has not gone any contact yet, meaning the ramp-up will take some time.

“He’ll continue to progress his on-court activities. So all was good, really good report,” Vaughn said, adding: “I can say he has not done contact yet. But he’s been on the court, but has not done contact.”

Vaughn would not provide much of a timeline for his superstar’s return.

“He has not done contact yet. So I can’t say it’s a day away, two days away, four days away, but I could just tell you that he hasn’t done contact.”

Sounds like the stay-ready group is going to get some work between now and the break.

Next up

The Nets will play their second straight game on TNT when they take on the Chicago Bulls this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie are expected to suit up for that one, so it should be a fun night at the Barclays Center.

For a different perspective on this loss to the Suns, head over to Bright Side of the Sun.