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Mikal Bridges and Cam Thomas shine as Nets pull away from short-handed Cavs

Mikal Bridges ranks third in the NBA in total minutes this season. He had averaged 36.5 minutes per game over his last 10 appearances entering Sunday’s road matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 6-6 forward also owns the league’s longest active streak of consecutive games played. He has not missed a start for a while now, obviously. But after averaging just 16.5 points per game while shooting 37.4% from the field, 30.1% from 3-point range and 68.6% from the 3-point range since the All-Star break, some have been concerned that the wear and tear of the regular season has been starting to catch up to Bridges.

And who could blame them for assuming? After all, the 27-year-old has been asked to do more in Brooklyn this season than at any other point in his professional career. While Bridges is known as an Iron Man, he is still human.

But whenever conversations of Bridges’ decline get the loudest, he always seems to bounce back in a major way. The Nets’ 120-101 defeat of Cleveland on Sunday was no different. He finished with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting (5-of-8 from deep) with five rebounds, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes to help Brooklyn snap a two-game losing streak.

The Nets are now 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings, as they continue to fight for a spot in the Play-In Tournament.

“It was good for Mikal to see some shots go in… Just taking the pressure off himself and stepping up,” interim head coach Kevin Ollie said. “He puts so much work in, so I know those seeds he’s planted are going to bloom at some point. He’s meticulous in his work and [it’s] going to show. And like I said the other day, struggle is part of it. And he’s going to grow through it if he doesn’t stop in the middle. And he didn’t stop in the middle tonight. He finished it to the end.”

Brooklyn led by as many as 12 points early in the second quarter, thanks to Bridges’ aggressive offensive start, and never trailed in the first half. However, Cleveland ended the first half on a 17-6 run (10-2 over the last 3:12 of the second quarter) to cut their deficit to one at the break.

The Cavaliers captured their first lead of the game just 18 seconds into the third quarter after an errant pass by Cam Thomas led to a layup for Isaac Okoro at the other end.

However, the Nets did not allow a lethargic second-half start to cripple them. Instead, they responded with their highest-scoring quarter of the season, outscoring Cleveland 44-29 in the period while shooting 17-of-24 from the field and 8-of-10 from deep.

Brooklyn wound up outscoring the Cavaliers 68-50 in the second half, shooting 53.2% from the field, 51.4% from deep (18-of-35) and 90% from the free throw line (18-of-20) for the game. It also had 33 assists on 42 made field goals.

“I think when we make shots, everybody is positive and communicating at the highest level,” Dennis Schröder said. “I think we just have to keep doing that. Even if we don’t shoot the ball great, I think the communication piece has to be on the highest level every single game. But tonight, we shot the ball very, very well.”

Thomas, now two games removed from a six-game absence, scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half. Schröder added 17 points in his ninth straight start and Nic Claxton logged his 25th double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Bridges and Thomas combined for 10 treys.

The Cavaliers, who were without Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Evan Mobley and Dean Wade, were led by Georges Niang, who scored 20 points in 24 minutes. Cam Johnson missed his third straight game for the Nets on Sunday.

Brooklyn will have two days off before its next road game on Wednesday against the Orlando Magic.

“We can’t keep talking about the effort and energy,” Thomas said. “We just have to get out there and do it. If we want to get into the Play-In, we just have to do it. We just have to come out with the energy and effort every game, knowing what’s at stake.”