At the end on Sunday afternoon in Barclays Center, everybody played their part.
Of course San Antonio’s Josh Primo left Cam Thomas to double-team Kevin Durant as the final seconds ran down in overtime. What else would you do when the league’s leading scorer has the fate of the game in his hands?
Thomas, in the weakside corner as Durant went to his left with four Nets spread out along the baseline, slid up to the wing. Nets coach Steve Nash had told him to expect a double on Durant, who swung the ball to the Brooklyn rookie. Thomas attacked in stride off the pass, and his runner while going across the lane with 1.4 seconds left in the game gave the Nets the 121-119 win.
“When I get out top, especially late in the game, no matter how they’re shooting the ball, I realize teams might run and jump me out there and not let me play one-on-one,” said Durant. “So at the end of regulation, I saw him coming at the end of regulation and I rushed the 3-pointer and maybe should have waited a little bit and he probably could have got the same set in regulation. It was good to go through that so when I saw him again in overtime, I was able to slow down a bit and find Cam and he showcased his brilliance, making a tough runner. That’s his shot. I’m glad he knocked that down.”
“It was just a 1-4 flat for KD, game-winner, take us home, but they came and doubled so I was open, I made a play,” said Thomas. “It was either shoot a three or get to the hoop. I got to the hoop, did a floater, just a good basketball play.”
It’s the kind of shot-making that has been the center of Thomas’ game since his record-setting career at Oak Hill Academy through his single season at LSU, where he led the SEC and freshmen across the country in scoring.
In his first taste of pro ball, Thomas lit up the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 27.0 points per game and draining clutch shots just like this one on the way to Co-MVP honors. In the two games he played in the G League this season for the Long Island Nets, Thomas averaged 39.5 points.
It took about a month for the 20-year-old, 6-foot-4 guard to work his way into the mix in Brooklyn as well after being selected 27th overall in last summer’s NBA Draft. He had just played a season-high 36 minutes on Dec. 18, having scored in double-figures in five of his last six games, when health and safety protocols interrupted his rookie season.
In his most significant action since returning, Thomas scored 11 points with six rebounds against the Spurs while playing 30 minutes on Sunday, right down to his game-winner.
“I just trust the work I put in, I’ve done a lot of work so I'm always ready whenever KD or James (Harden) kicks it to me in a situation like that,” said Thomas. “I'm always gonna be ready to hit the three or getting to the basket to hit a shot for us to win the game. So I just trust my work and my confidence.”
The health and safety protocols left the Nets with three postponed games and some ad hoc rosters and rotations for a stretch. As they’ve gotten closer to whole again, Thomas is no longer the only rookie starting to see playing time. David Duke Jr. has started the last three games. Nash gave Day’Ron Sharpe some first-half minutes on Sunday and the big man gave Brooklyn seven points and six rebounds in 11 minutes. Kessler Edwards came off the bench in the third quarter and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers.
“I thought they all did a good job,” sad Nash. “We’re in that position where we believe in those guys but they need time to really develop and play. We’ve got other guys that are deserving of minutes too so we’ve got so many guys that are at a similar level of ability and play. It’s a tough road to work through but we’re trying to give those guys a little bit of an opportunity and they did well.”
Like Sharpe, Thomas is less than two years away from playing high school ball. Now he’s in a backcourt with James Harden and being set up for game-winners by Kevin Durant.
“It’s crazy kind of just to be a part of the team with so many great players,” said Thomas. “basically legends of the game and then for them to have trust in me to go in there and make that kind of shot in this kind of game, it’s kind of surreal but you want to keep building on it and just keep working.”