Thursday, January 20, 2022

Rookie Cam Thomas sinks game-winner in overtime to help Nets survive Spurs, end five-game home losing streak

The Brooklyn Nets welcomed the San Antonio Spurs to Barclays Center on Sunday for some early afternoon basketball, and the two sides treated everyone who forewent NFL football to a thriller. Thanks to rookie guard Cam Thomas, who hit a game-winning floater with 1.7 seconds remaining in overtime, the Nets escaped with a 121-119 win, and ended a five-game home losing streak.

After a bit of a slow start, the Nets took control of the game coming out of the halftime break, and built a double-digit lead that reached as much as 14. With Kevin Durant and James Harden leading the way, as per usual, it seemed as though the Nets would cruise to a comfortable win against the overmatched Spurs. 

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Instead, the Nets started getting sloppy — they registered a season-high 21 turnovers — and the Spurs closed the game on a 14-2 run to force an extra frame. Late in overtime, an uncharacteristic turnover from Durant led to a fastbreak for the Spurs that could have put them ahead. Instead, Dejounte Murray missed, the rebound was tied up and the Nets won the ensuing tip. They made sure not to waste their second chance.

The Nets cleared out for Durant, and when he drove the Spurs sent a double team. Thomas was the open man, and he cut into the paint, took the pass from Durant and stayed calm to drop in the first game-winner of his NBA career: 

“The play was just to get Kevin in a 1-4 flat and we knew my man was gonna double,” Thomas said. “So they just told me to sprint up and be an outlet for him. And if I get it, shoot it or drive it, and I got the game-winner.

“It’s cool because I told Kevin coming out of the timeout, ‘I’m trying to get on the plane, man, so end the game,'” Thomas continued. “He gave it to me so I said, ‘I’ll do it.'”

Thomas’ heroics saved the Nets from what would have been an extremely disappointing loss — 14-point lead, 21 turnovers, 15-23 opponent — and also ended their long home losing streak. Due to games that were postponed due to COVID-19, and five straight losses entering Sunday, the Nets hadn’t won at home since well before Christmas on Dec. 16.  

The elephant in the room, of course, is that they play at home without All-Star guard Kyrie Irving. After sitting out the first few months of the season, Irving recently returned to action but is ineligible to play in home games because of New York City’s COVID-19 mandate. Due in large part to Irving’s absence, the Nets have already lost more games at Barclays Center (11-10) than they did all of last season, when they went 28-8 at home. 

Despite the fact that Irving’s decision is clearly impacting the Nets’ ability to have success and compete for a championship, Durant said recently that he will not try to force his teammate to get the vaccine. 

“I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play — play every game,” Durant said. “But I’m not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that’s not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I’m not about to do that.”

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