The Brooklyn Nets handled business on Saturday night. The Nets, who entered at 19-28, have been on the other end of business transactions for much of this season, rarely possessing an overwhelming talent advantage.
But with two days of rest before facing the Philadelphia 76ers, who were not just missing Joel Embiid, but (deep breath) Tobias Harris, De’Anthony Melton, Robert Covington, and Nicolas Tatum as well. The Nets weren’t whole, exactly, missing Dorian Finney-Smith and Dennis Smith Jr. to short-term injuries, but they had enough to earn the expectation of a win, particularly with Ben Simmons back in the fold after missing one game with a left knee contusion.
Simmons’ initial return to the court against the Utah Jazz went perfectly, and that’s how he started off in his old stomping grounds on Saturday night. He checked in with his team leading 11-8 and picked right back up where he left off, finding Royce O’Neale and Cam Thomas for back-to-back transition threes:
It was a sign of the night to come for Brooklyn, as the team dished 31 assists and made 20 3-pointers, marks they’ve now hit in each of Simmons’ recent appearance. But the 6’11”, 240 pound point-forward only played 14 minutes in Philly, grabbing nine boards and dropping five assists without taking a shot attempt.
Brooklyn’s defense with Simmons at the 5 and Nic Claxton off the court was a bit wonky, particularly in the second quarter, but the Sixers couldn’t score enough to make a true dent in a growing Nets lead. Claxton dominated the Embiid-less interior, posting 12/15/4 with four blocks.
For the Sixers, the paint was a no-fly zone, and with Tyrese Maxey playing like a mortal rather than a superhuman, their offense couldn’t keep up with Brooklyn. The visitors made 3-pointer after 3-pointer, whether the looks were created by Simmons or not.
Mikal Bridges continued to fire at will, finishing with an efficient 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting but 5-of-12 from deep, his third straight game with that many triples. Reserves like Lonnie Walker IV (20 points) and Royce O’Neale (eight points) followed along, and a total team effort granted Brooklyn a 67-51 lead at halftime.
“We had a good rhythm offensively, getting out running, getting up good shots moving the ball. We had good pop today,” said Cam Thomas, who was responsible for fully opening the floodgates in the second half.
Thomas was already having a solid performance, but turned it up to 11 after halftime to salt the Sixers away. The young bucket-getter scored 21 of his 40 points in the third quarter, and as with most of his best games, his offense was simple.
When the hapless Mo Bamba was in drop, Thomas simply pulled up from deep, where he made five shots:
Cam Thomas has made too many pull-up threes to guard him like this: pic.twitter.com/l6sTAW5vEL— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) February 4, 2024
There were catch-and-shoot threes, straight-line drives to the basket, and even five assists to go along with another 40-ball for Thomas:
Good read from Cam Thomas here. Sixers switch the first screen, do not on the second. House is showing help, quick decision on the skip pass. Offenses are making the reads to punish any breakdown from defenses. pic.twitter.com/KFOaeNbcIw— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) February 3, 2024
“You’re seeing it at all levels now,” said Vaughn his third-year guard’s production. “Whether it’s the ability for us to run simple pick-and-roll and he makes the right decision, he’s just doing it over and over again. The game is really revealing itself to him, whether he’s going to take a shot, where he’s going to produce something for teammate.”
Still, the head coach wouldn’t commit to Thomas as a full-time starter: “I’ll see when we get healthy. You know, we miss Doe, we miss Day’Ron, good to see Ben back out there tonight. I’m not sure what our starting unit is going to be going forward, but right now I think this group has put us in a position to win games.
As Thomas poured it on in the third quarter, Brooklyn’s lead hovered in the mid-twenties, and no matter how many hustle plays Jaden Springer and Patrick Beverley made to try and ignite the home crowd, the Philly faithful never really got into it. How could they? The Nets had an answer every time down the court, whether as part of Thomas’ takeover, Bridges’ bucket-getting, or another strong game from Walker.
The lead touched 30 in the early fourth quarter, and the crowd didn’t even have the heart to boo Simmons. However, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s broadcast team did refer to Simmons as “number 10” the whole night.
And frankly, that was the best defense the hospital Sixers played all night. Undermanned and perhaps jet-lagged after returning from their West Coast swing, they were no match for the Nets, who laughed and trash-talked their way for 48 minutes to a decisive, stress-free victory.
Said Thomas: “You know, this little streak we have with the playoffs and the regular-season games has been tough. You know, playing a team that you just can’t get a win against is tough, but today I wanted to win.”
Terquavion Smith caught a heater in garbage time to make the final score respectable, but make no mistake, the Brooklyn Nets dominated. Ben Simmons helped ignite the offense in the first quarter, and then the team-wide hot shooting continued into the second quarter, where Claxton led the defense to stop after stop. In the third quarter, it was all about Cam Thomas, who prevented Philadelphia from even thinking about making a dent in the lead. And thus, the fourth quarter was a dozen ticks of garbage time, though Harry Giles III didn’t treat it as such:
Harry Giles III continues to make the most of his opportunities, putting up 8/4/2 in eight minutes today: pic.twitter.com/nGip3hxGzs— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) February 4, 2024
Ultimately, there was something for every fan to cheer about on Saturday evening.
Aside from fantastic individual performances and team-wide marksmanship, Brooklyn snapped their nine-game losing streak against the Philadelphia 76ers. And aside from that, the Nets stared down a limping opponent and swiftly put them out of their misery.
That alone is cause for celebration.
Final Score: Brooklyn Nets 136, Philadelphia 76ers 121
Milestones abound, both as a team and from the usual suspects.
- 136 points marks Brooklyn’s highest-scoring performance on the road this season.
- Assists and threes, markers of a good offense. Well, in Ben Simmons’ two games back, the Nets have made 20+ 3-pointers, something they did just twice all season prior. They’ve also recorded their two highest assist-totals of the year, 41 against the Utah Jazz and 33 in Philly on Saturday.
- Cam Thomas moves into sole possession of fifth-place for 40-point games by a Net in the franchise’s NBA history, trailing Vince Carter, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and John Williamson in that order.
- Thomas also joins Kenny Anderson as the only other Net who’s ever put up a 40-ball in Philly, and Bernard King as the only 22-and-under player to score 25+ points in five consecutive games.
- This is the first time in Mikal Bridges’ career he’s made five-or-more 3-pointers in three consecutive games.
The Nets face yet another five-game home-stand, this one starting with Steph Curry (who scored 60 points in a loss Saturday) and the Golden State Warriors coming to town. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m ET on Monday night. Then Tuesday, the 20th anniversary of NetsDaily, the Nets will host Kyrie Irving and the Dallas Mavericks.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 136, Philadelphia 76ers 121 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 136, Philadelphia 76ers 121 (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: Cam Thomas / 30 PTS (Video) - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn recaps the Nets’ big win vs. 76ers (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas expresses his thoughts on 40-point night in Philly (Video) - YES Network
- Ben Simmons: Postgame vs. Sixers (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Cam Thomas scores 40 points, Nets rout short-handed 76ers 136-121 - Kevin Cooney - AP
- Cam Thomas drops 40 as Nets pound 76ers - Larry Fleisher - Reuters
- Cam Thomas, Mikal Bridges propel Nets past undermanned 76ers - Andrew Crane - New York Post
- Cam Thomas’ 40 points lead wounded Nets to win in Ben Simmons’ return to Philadelphia ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- How Nets center Nic Claxton is finding his second wind: ‘It’s been a good challenge to have’ ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Ben Simmons returns, helps Nets rout shorthanded 76ers ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets’ deficit in big men has Nic Claxton taking on extra minutes ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Shorthanded Sixers sputter on both ends of the court vs. the Brooklyn Nets, suffer fifth loss in six games ($) - Gina Mizell - Philadelphia Inquirer