Cam Thomas showed everybody who he was right from the start, owning clutch moments in his first taste of pro ball during Summer League out in Las Vegas. As the 20-year-old’s rookie season closes in on the All-Star break, Thomas is delivering in the games that count, adding to his recent hot stretch with a killer fourth quarter and a dagger 3-pointer against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
The side-step pull-up with 7.7 seconds remaining locked up a historic Brooklyn comeback as the Nets beat the Knicks 111-106. They had trailed by as many as 28 points in the first half, matching the largest deficit overcome for a win in franchise history, previously done in Sacramento on March 19, 2019.
On that night, the Nets trailed by 25 going into the fourth quarter, making it one of the rarest wins in NBA history. This time, they had cut the lead to 14, trailing 87-73 going into the fourth quarter.
At that point, Thomas was still looking for his shot. He had five points on 2-of-11 shooting through three quarters. He finished with 21 points after scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting while playing the full 12 minutes in the final quarter. “Staying aggressive, that was the main key, just staying aggressive but then when the offense is turning into angle pick and rolls get them in ball screens that's when I finally got my rhythm,” said Thomas. “I had a few layups, I had a layup on (Immanuel) Quickley on the inbounds and I missed a floater, got the rebound back got a layup so that's what really got me going then that's when pick-and-rolls started coming, the mid-ranges with a big that's practice shots so, great strategy.”
Brooklyn was trailing 97-92 when Thomas scored seven straight points to put the Nets in the lead, 99-97, hitting a 19-footer with 3:58 to go.
“I think he has a deep belief in his ability,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “I think he seeks those moments, so that’s something that’s inside him that is rare. That’s an innate talent. I think his teammates have belief in him, so that allows his belief to be fortified. I thought the way he played down the stretch, he made the game-winner and all that, but he made a bunch of plays down the stretch. We went to him, a rookie carrying the load in a rivalry game like this in the Garden, it shows you what’s inside of Cam.”
With the Nets up by a point, Thomas fed LaMarcus Aldridge for a jumper and a 106-103 lead with just under a minute to go. With just over 10 seconds remaining, Thomas sized up New York’s Quentin Grimes out beyond the top of the key, crossed over, and pulled up going to his left with three seconds left on the shot clock, draining the 3-pointer cleanly to put the Nets up by six.
“I was actually trying to get to the basket,” said Thomas, “get to the middie whatever it was inside the two, but I'd seen everyone loading up so it was just like, that's a 3 right there so I just took the chance with the 3 and thank God it went in.”
“It was the game-winner,” said Nash. “We know that about Cam. We’ve seen it in Summer League. We’ve seen it at times this year. He loves those moments. There’s a gene in there somewhere, and he has that.”
From there, Thomas skipped downcourt to the Nets bench to be met by Kevin Durant. Starting with a career-high 30-point game at Utah on Feb. 4, Thomas is averaging 21.6 points on 48.7 percent shooting over Brooklyn’s last seven games.
“I'm not surprised by what he's doing at all,” said Durant before Saturday night’s game in Miami. “He's a gamer and he loves to play. I think the other aspects of his game are starting to grow and that comes with just experience and understanding the game plan and just being a true pro. He's building his routine, he's figuring out what works for him as a pro and that usually takes time for 19, 20-year-olds coming into the league, it's about that routine. So when you see consistent games like that, behind the scenes you can get an idea of how he's working or how he's figuring out how to move as a professional, so it's cool to see in real time.”