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Thomas leads Nets’ Garden comeback

Rookie scores 21 points as Brooklyn stuns rival Knicks

February 16, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Rookie Cam Thomas saved his best for last and the Brooklyn Nets followed his lead.

Thomas swished an arching 30-footer with under eight seconds remaining to cap a 21-point effort off the bench as the superstar-less Brooklyn Nets staged a record-tying rally to win their second straight game, 111-106, over the New York Knicks in front of 18,916 fans at Madison Square Garden.

“We were all saying we were going to come back. We were positive,” Thomas revealed.

Last year’s Southeastern Conference scoring champion has been a boon for a Nets team that is still waiting for Kevin Durant to return from injury, Kyrie Irving to come back to full-time status and newly acquired Ben Simmons to begin his stint here in Brooklyn.

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But Thomas, who also led the Vegas Summer League in points per game and was Brooklyn’s most productive player during the preseason, was limited to five points through three quarters as the undermanned Nets (31-27) trailed by 18 points in the fourth after falling behind by as many as 28 earlier.

“At first it was tough, they were grabbing me a lot and I was getting no calls. You just keep playing and eventually your rhythm will come,” said Thomas, who only made two of his first 11 shots.

Unbowed by their huge deficit, the Nets began crawling back into contention and Thomas was at the fore.

He scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting over the final 12 minutes, including the long-range bomb from well beyond the top of the key that gave Brooklyn a 109-103 lead in the late stages and capped a decisive 25-6 run.

“I wouldn’t have taken that shot,” Nets head coach Steve Nash jibed. “But Cam can make it and I thought he could when he took it.”

Julius Randle had a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks (25-34), who lost their third in a row.

Seth Curry finished with 20 points, Andre Drummond grabbed a team season-high 19 boards and LaMarcus Aldridge added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets, who ended an eight-game road losing streak before they host Washington here Thursday in their pre-All-Star break finale.

LaMarcus Aldridge and the Nets have won two in a row since losing a season-high 11 straight. AP Photo by John Minchillo

“I think (the Knicks) were more physical than us in the first half,” Nash said. “At halftime we said, ‘This is a test of our character.'”

Brooklyn proved it had plenty, outscoring New York 67-40 in the second half en route to its second straight win since a season-high 11-game slide. The Nets matched their largest comeback from any deficit in team history.

“After a 28-point comeback? We’re in stride now,” Thomas noted when asked if this was the start of something big for the Nets.

That will likely be determined after Feb. 24, when Brooklyn hosts Boston at Barclays in its first game following the break.

Whether Durant is back from his sprained knee, Irving is finally free to play in our borough when vaccination mandates get lifted or Simmons takes the hardwood in a Nets jersey for the first time, at least Brooklyn basketball fanatics realize they have a dangerous scoring threat in Thomas.

“We know that about Cam. There’s a (scoring) gene in there somewhere.” Nash said.

“He has a deep belief in his ability and he seeks those moments. That’s an innate talent. His teammates believe in him.”

Kevin Durant (right) hopes to rejoin Cam Thomas and his Nets teammates following next week’s All-Star break. AP Photo by John Minchillo

NOTHING BUT NET: Durant has missed the last 16 games with a sprain in the ligament of his left knee. Nash would love the two-time NBA Finals MVP back after the break, but was wary of guaranteeing it before Wednesday’s game in New York. “There’s obviously a small chance, but we want to be really careful and safe with Kevin,” Nash said. “A setback would be tough when we only have, whatever it is, 20 or so games left. We don’t want to jeopardize it or have a setback where he misses another six to 10 or 12 games of the 20. So I think we’ll be cautious coming out of the break.”

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