The Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers had the unenviable task of following up the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics on ESPN’s Friday night slate. It was always going to be tough for the worldwide leader to follow up a fantastic game between the defending champions and this season’s best team, but a matchup between the West’s 10-seed and the East’s 11-seed didn’t offer much promise.
Then again, not many Nets games lately have. The 3-14 stretch over their last 17 games has somehow been more miserable than the record indicates. That misery has manifested in myriad ways, most recently Spencer Dinwiddie’s poor play being called into question by the national media...
Zach Lowe this morning on Spencer Dinwiddie: "It almost looks as if Dinwiddie is on some kind of strike." Heard same thing from a league source. https://t.co/Wisq1PEZOc— NetsDaily (@NetsDaily) January 19, 2024
...with Dinwiddie slyly responding by liking this post on X/Twitter.
And early in Friday’s West Coast contest, it looked like the misery would continue. After half-a-quarter, the Nets trailed 22-11, unable to guard a soul while the offense continued living down to its 3rd-worst rank in January.
Then, Cam Thomas entered to give Brooklyn the spark they needed. He’d end up scoring 33 points in 32 minutes, but his 20-point first half was simply electric. Playing against the Lakers he grew up rooting for, he barely hit the rim on his jumpers, but mean-mugged and pranced around after all of them, even pointing at Austin Reaves after sending him to the floor:
Lonnie Walker IV said he had predicted Thomas’ big game, noting, “When you play a drop against a three-level scorer like him, the game gets real easy. Especially once you get going early. So it was only a matter of time before he got hot, and he was, from start to finish, on fire.”
Post-game, Thomas appeared to say he’s been needlessly dissed in the past but didn’t say by whom.
“I feel like the goal post always moves for me,” he told the media. “When people now score all these points, it’s all praise. But when I used to do it, it’s always a knock. He can’t play defense. He doesn’t pass. But when I see other people doing the same thing, it’s praise.”
LeBron James offered his praise for Thomas when asked what happened to Lakers.
“Cam Thomas,” said James. “In the second quarter, he put the pressure on us and all into halftime we still was kind of close in the third quarter we gave up 38 points. They got the win right there.”
Thanks to Thomas’ efforts and improved defense in the second quarter, the Nets were able to hang around, withstanding L.A.’s hot start from three. A deficit as large as a dozen was halved to a respectable 68-62 score by the break.
“As soon as we got physical, the energy picked up,” said Thomas of the team’s turnaround.
Elsewhere, the first half was a story of revenge— D’Angelo Russell raced out to 17 early points against his former team, leading the alongside Anthony Davis’ 17. On the other side, Walker scored ten in just six minutes against his previous employer, on his way to a 15-point performance.
In the third quarter, the starters stepped up. They opened the frame on an 18-6 run, and never looked back. Dinwiddie, undoubtedly motivated by some combination of playing in his hometown and the chatter surrounding his play, scored 13 of his 19 in the third quarter. He also assisted Brooklyn’s second-leading scorer on the night, Nic Claxton, a couple of times at the rim.
Even with Davis on the floor, Claxton was the game’s best big after halftime. He rebounded like a menace, and contorted his body to finish unconventional lobs repeatedly. Clax also showcased a signature coast-to-coast take, besting AD on both ends:
Clax gets the stop on AD, then euros around him on another coast-to-coast take: pic.twitter.com/lSFLTdf25x— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 20, 2024
After a 3-pointer from Mikal Bridges (17 points) gave the Nets their first lead of the night at 76-74, it was an avalanche. The Lakers were tired and frustrated, stepping out of bounds and missing bunnies at the rim when they weren’t arguing with the zebras. Outside of their three leading scorers in D’Lo, Davis, and LeBron James, L.A. had nobody to rely on for buckets, and put up a dismal offensive showing in the second half.
“The Lakers came out flat in the second half and we took advantage of that,” said Claxton, matter-of-factly. “They were complaining about calls, so we just did what we had to do.”
Thus, Brooklyn’s lead just kept growing. Not only was the shot-making was contagious with six players making multiple 3-pointers (19-of-47 as a team), but the energy was too:
been a while since the Nets played with this kind of energy pic.twitter.com/oohe5B25Pu— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 20, 2024
It didn’t matter who the Nets put on the floor in the second half, everybody brought it. However, it was a three-guard lineup featuring Thomas, Walker, and Dennis Smith Jr. that officially shut the door on the Lakers.
While Smith Jr. dove on the floor for loose balls and drove to the rim, Thomas continued to cook and traded daggers with Walker. Whether they were majestic layups in transition or step-back triples over LeBron, they turned Crypto.com Arena into a crypt, the only audible crowd noise on the broadcast coming from a jubilant Brooklyn bench.
The Nets needed this, so much so that even after building an insurmountable lead in the fourth quarter, they kept the starters in to bask in the victory (and maybe pad some stats). Up by 20 with under three minutes left, Cam Johnson (ten points) finished off an uncontested fast-break opportunity as Lakers fans were filing out, then stuck around to steal the inbounds pass.
On Friday, the Lakers learned what’s been drilled into every Brooklyn fan over the past month: When it rains it pours.
"They got their asses handed to them and it was embarrassing" -James Worthy on the @SpectrumSN postgame show.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 20, 2024
After such a cathartic win, only one question remains: Where has this team been? You know, the team that started 13-10 and, just as importantly, was fun to watch on a nightly basis.
No, they won’t shoot 40% from deep on nearly 50 attempts every night. Cam Thomas won’t shoot 13-of-18 every night. They made shots, yes, but forced turnovers, ran in transition, and played with a trash-talking swagger. That’s the Nets team we missed; whether the shots fall or not can’t determine their spirit.
“When the ball goes in, that’s helpful,” said Jacque Vaughn. ”Now the next layer: When the ball doesn’t go in. So that’s our challenge, that’s the grit, that’s the determination, that’s the mental toughness to somehow figure it out and move on to the next possession.”
“But it was helpful for that ball to go in.”
Final Score: Brooklyn Nets 130, Los Angeles Lakers 112
Milestones taste a lot better when they come in a win, that’s for sure.
- Nic Claxton’s monster 22/14 double-double was good for his fourth 20/10 game of the season. It also marked a career-best seventh straight game with double-digit boards.
- The Nets lead 100-90 after three quarters, marking the third time this season they've hit the century mark before the final frame. Their 38-22 third quarter ties their best point differential in a third quarter this season -- 40-24 on 12/8 vs. Washington.
- Cam Thomas’ 20-point first half was his sixth 20-point half of the season, and the 13th of his young career.
- Thomas’ milestones don’t end there. He became the youngest Net since Keith Van Horn with a 30-burger against the Lakers, also tallying the most points by a Net off the bench against the Lakers in franchise history.
And what was this about??
Early in the fourth quarter, Trendon Watford and a young, presumably Laker, fan had what Ian Eagle described as a “rather adult conversation.”
Lip readers welcome.
The Nets will continue hanging out in Los Angeles, preparing to face an old friend in James Harden and the Clippers. We’ve got a matinee with tip-off, scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 130, Los Angeles Lakers 112 - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn on win in LA (Video) - YES Network
- Walker IV on Nets’ win vs. Lakers (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas on beating Lakers, snapping losing streak (Video) - YES Network
- Nic Claxton: Postgame vs. Lakers (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Lonnie Walker: Postgame vs. Lakers (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Cam Thomas on Nets season so far (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Cam Thomas scores 33 points, Nets dominate 2nd half to rout Lakers 130-112 - Joe Reedy - AP
- Nets bust out of funk with convincing road win over Lakers - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Dorian Finney-Smith blocking out trade deadline chatter - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Thomas scores 33 points off bench as Nets beat Lakers ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Mikal Bridges: Nets mainly need to keep their heads in the game ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Mikal Bridges says ‘he’s playing’ vs. Lakers despite suffering right shin contusion ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- ‘We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.’ Lakers look lost in blowout loss to Nets ($) - Iliana Limon Romero - Los Angeles Times