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The Brooklyn Nets aren’t sure when Kevin Durant can come back or how soon Kyrie Irving might be able to play in New York.
In the meantime, rookie Cam Thomas did an amazing impression of either of them to lead a stunning comeback that matched the biggest in franchise history.
The rookie led Brooklyn back from a 28-point deficit with 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and the Nets beat the New York Knicks 111-106 on Wednesday night.
Thomas hit a deep 3-pointer to clinch it with 7.7 seconds remaining, a shot that had Durant dancing far off the bench in delight.
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“I’m glad it went in because I was struggling tonight,” Thomas said. “I went like 1 for 9, 1 for 10 to start, I wasn’t getting any calls, so I just had to play through it, keep playing. So I’m glad it worked out for us.”
Just 2 for 11 through three quarters, Thomas sparked the 15-0 run in the fourth that gave Brooklyn its first lead of the game with just under 4 minutes remaining.
“I think he has a deep belief in his ability and I think he seeks those moments,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “So that’s something that’s inside of him that’s rare.”
Seth Curry added 20 points and Andre Drummond grabbed 19 rebounds, most by a Nets player this season, in their second game with the Nets after coming with Ben Simmons in the trade for James Harden.
Simmons also watched from the bench, seeing his new teammates come from 54-26 down in the second quarter to win their second straight after an 11-game losing streak. They also came from 28 points down to win at Sacramento on March 19, 2019.
Julius Randle had 31 points and 10 rebounds in perhaps the most embarrassing loss of a disappointing season for the Knicks. They lost their third straight and stumble into the All-Star break at 25-34 a year after making the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“You get a big lead, you’ve got to play tough with a lead,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to understand how to play with a lead, so we haven’t done that. We haven’t done that well.”
Well supported by some loud fans in Madison Square Garden, the Nets snapped an eight-game road losing streak and beat the Knicks for the fifth straight time.
With the Nets playing without their stars and the Knicks currently out of playoff position, there was a national TV audience but not a ton of local buzz around the game, with the talk of the town from a basketball standpoint focused more on the city’s vaccine mandate that prevents Irving from playing.
There didn’t seem much about the first half that would bring the focus to anything on the court.
The Knicks made their first six 3-pointers and raced to a 38-18 lead after one quarter, with the Nets going 1 for 13 beyond the arc. New York led 65-44 at halftime and even though Brooklyn trimmed it to seven midway through the third, the Knicks seemed to have recovered and were ahead again by 18 early in the fourth.
Nets: Nash said the Nets haven’t gauged yet where Simmons’ conditioning is, focused more on planning the buildup to his eventual debut after sitting out all season before he was traded from Philadelphia last Thursday.
Knicks: RJ Barrett missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left ankle. … Thibodeau said Derrick Rose continues to do more work as he recovers from right ankle surgery but still isn’t cleared for contact.
MULLING THE MANDATE
Nash said the Nets are hopeful of a change to New York City’s vaccine mandate, which requires players on the city’s pro teams to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to play in public venues. Irving is not vaccinated. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Mayor Eric Adams should consider changing the mandate, saying it’s odd that it only applies to players on the local teams while an unvaccinated opponent is allowed to play. Adams agreed it’s unfair but said he is “struggling” with whether to change it.
Nash downplayed the chances of Durant, who missed his 16th straight game with a sprained left knee ligament, being ready to return when the Nets return from the All-Star break on Feb. 24.
“There’s obviously a small chance, but we want to be really careful and safe with Kevin,” Nash said. “A setback would be tough when we only have, whatever it is, 20 or so games left. We don’t want to jeopardize it or have a setback where he misses another six to 10 or 12 games of the 20. So I think we’ll be cautious coming out of the break.”
Nets: Host Washington on Thursday night.
Knicks: Host Miami on Feb. 26.