Brooklyn Boro

Bridges blisters Heat with 45 points

New acquisition helps Nets to big win before All-Star break

February 16, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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One of the key pieces in the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix last week lit up the Barclays Center and the Miami Heat Wednesday night in Downtown Brooklyn.

Mikal Bridges scored a career-high 45 points, including 15 in a row during a blistering fourth-quarter stretch, as the Nets went into the annual All-Star break with a heartening 116-105 victory over Miami in front of a sellout crowd of 17,963 on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

Bridges, who came to Brooklyn along with Cameron Johnson and a slew of first-round draft picks, broke open a one-point game in Durant-like fashion, if the former Nets superstar ever had a night quite like this.

The 6-foot-6 small forward out of Villanova began his assault with a layup to give the Nets (34-24) a 92-89 lead.

He followed with a three-point play off a seven-foot floater in the lane, a 3-pointer, another layup, a 24-footer and a 15-foot pull-up jumper.

Johnson drilled another 3-ball on Brooklyn’s ensuing trip, stretching the lead to 108-96 with just under four minutes remaining.

“You traded a future Hall of Famer that averaged damn near 30 (points per game) for his career, so I’m just trying to continue to get better and get to a point where I can score a little more,” Bridges said humbly after finishing 17-of-24 from the floor, 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 7-of-7 from the line.

The performance came just in time for a team that didn’t want to go into the extended break with three consecutive losses and five in its last seven games.

Cam Thomas poured in 19 points off the bench and Johnson had 18 for the Nets, who will be off until Feb. 24, when they visit the Chicago Bulls.

Brooklyn will play nine of its next 11 contests on the road, so picking up a home win before a week off was a relief and a good omen for the stretch run toward the playoffs.

Cameron Johnson and the Nets got a key win against the Miami Heat ahead of the All-Star break Wednesday night. AP Photo by Jessie Alcheh

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, who has had to put together different lineup combinations and is still getting to know his new players following the trades that sent Durant to the Suns and Kyrie Irving to Dallas, jokingly lamented Monday that he wished he could practice during the annual hiatus.

After watching Bridges’ scoreboard scorching effort, however, he had to feel a bit better about the team dealing away a pair of All-Star starters, both of whom switched conferences.

“I think overall just his spirit and energy and juice, even at our walkthrough today, like he had the mindset it seemed like he wasn’t going to let us lose,” Vaughn said of Bridges.

Bam Adebayo scored 24 points and ripped down 13 rebounds and Max Strus added 18 points for the Heat (32-27), who slipped 2 1/2 games behind the fifth-place Nets in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“We’ve got 23 (games) to go to get to where we need to get to,” Miami’s Jimmy Butler said after the Heat played without injured regulars Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry and Victor Oladipo.

“It’s all about being healthy, which is what going into this break is going to do for us, come out swinging for the fences in the right way.”

The Nets have 24 games remaining to prove they can reach the postseason without Durant and Irving, both of whom participated in last year’s first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.

If Vaughn and the Nets have their way, they’ll do a touch better in the postseason this year, but only if new Nets like Bridges and Johnson continue to contribute.

“I just had it going and my teammates found me every time,” Bridges said of his spectacular night.

Cam Thomas had 19 points off the bench Wednesday as the Nets blew past the Heat in the fourth quarter in Downtown Brooklyn. AP Photo by Jessie Alcheh

NOTHING BUT NET: Seth Curry didn’t score in 10 minutes off the bench for Brooklyn, but did see his first action in six games since suffering a left-abductor strain. … After visiting the Windy City following their return from the break, the Nets will be in Atlanta on Feb. 26 before returning to Barclays on Feb. 28 to host the Milwaukee Bucks. … Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie had nine points apiece in Wednesday’s win.

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