Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving left town a little over a week ago, taking with them the Nets’ star power. The Nets may have a new star for the first time since the trade deadline last Thursday.
This is what hope looks like in Brooklyn: a long, 6-foot-6, two-way star who can score from anywhere and has said that defense is his top priority.
Mikal Bridges did everything Wednesday night and scored a career-high 45 points in a 116-105 win over the Heat in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,963 at Barclays Center. He also helped a team that needed a closer by closing out the game.
“I’ve never scored 40 before, so this is a first,” Bridges said after making 17 of 24 shots from the floor, including 7 of 10 in the fourth quarter.
The fifth-place Nets (34-24) will feel good going into the All-Star break because they moved 2 12 games ahead of the seventh-place Heat (32-27), who dropped to the seventh spot because the sixth-place Knicks won Wednesday. For the Nets to avoid the play-in tournament, they will need more wins like this one.
Mikal Bridges of the Brooklyn Nets, number 1, shows how he feels after making a three-point shot.
In the fourth quarter, Bridges scored 17 points as the Nets pulled away from a strong Miami team. About halfway through the quarter, Bridges took over and scored 15 straight Nets points. During that time, the Nets went from having a one-point lead to having a 10-point lead with 4:55 to go.
Bridges were the best player on the court when Heat stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were playing. During the stretch that changed the game, Bridges stopped Butler from dribbling and made a jump shot while drawing a foul. Then, Bridges hit one of his four 3-pointers for the night from the corner, where the ball had been moved well. After that, Spencer Dinwiddie found Bridges on a cut, and Bridges made a running layup off the backboard.
Bridges seemed to score from anywhere, and after playing a more supporting role with the Suns, he became the Nets’ main scorer.
“If we keep learning and growing together, I think we’ll be a scary team that teams don’t want to play against,” said Bridges, whose Nets held the Heat to 28.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. “Defense is the most important thing.”
When Irving and Durant forced their way out of Brooklyn, the Nets lost both stars and game plans. Their offense was built around the two top scorers of all time.
On Wednesday, Bridges was the leader of the starters, and Cam Thomas, who scored 19 points by making 6 of 11 shots, led the bench players. Thomas scored more points than the Heat bench as a whole, which had a total of 16 points.
If the Nets’ many wings can slow down opposing offenses and their sharpshooters can make 3s while Bridges leads the starters and Thomas leads the bench, head coach Jacque Vaughn might have a winning plan for the rest of the season.
“I think that’s a perfect picture tonight,” Vaughn said of Thomas, who had three straight 40-point games before the trade deadline and had been trying to find his place. “For him to come off the bench and get as much attention as he did, to be able to make shots for us and make things happen for us, that was huge. Before he came in, our offense had slowed down a bit, and he can give us more chances to score.
The Heat came at the Nets in a balanced way, with all five starters scoring in the double digits. Butler didn’t like how long the Nets were, so he only scored 13 points, and Adebayo didn’t like Nic Claxton, but he still scored 24 points on 19 shots.
Cam Johnson, who came over from Phoenix with Bridges and added 18 points, said, “I think we can get even better.” “There are so many ways we can do better… This just shows how much this group can do.”
The Nets cut their rotation down to 10 players after Seth Curry came back and they were finally healthy for the first time this season. Even though they are still getting used to playing with each other, they looked like they were getting closer to being on the same page as they went from 0-3 to 2-3 after the trade deadline.
There were signs of getting along that hadn’t been there before. Ben Simmons had two points, four rebounds, and four assists in 20 minutes. With 2.7 seconds left in the third quarter, he threw a deep completion on an inbound pass to Bridges. Bridges got the ball, turned, and made a shot from 12 feet away to give the Nets a three-point lead going into the fourth. Bridges kept going as his teammates kept passing the ball to him.