Cam Thomas, Patty Mills, and Day’Ron Sharpe were often glued to their seats when everyone was healthy. But on Monday night, those out-of-rotation players delivered big-time performances as the Brooklyn Nets rolled over the Los Angeles Lakers, 121-104, in front of a sold-out Barclays Center crowd expecting a star-studded showdown.
Instead, they were treated to inspiring performances from the Nets’ bench and Russell Westbrook moving past Gary Payton into 10th place on the all-time career assists leaders.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis sat out the front end of a back-to-back schedule in New York. Ben Simmons, T.J. Warren, and Kevin Durant remained sidelined for the Nets, giving Thomas, Mills, and Sharpe the opportunity to play big minutes.
“That’s very difficult,” Thomas said about his limited role in a contending team full of veterans. “That’s why when people from the outside try to criticize us players like that, I don’t listen to them. They don’t know nothing about that.”
Thomas and Mills scored 21 apiece as part of the Nets’ explosive bench. Sharpe added eight points and 14 rebounds with two blocked shots.
With more than enough support, Kyrie Irving didn’t have to carry much of the scoring load as his streak of six straight games with 30-plus points ended. But Irving’s five straight points put the game away, extending the Nets’ lead to 14, 116-112, in the final two minutes.
“It’s nothing but joy in my eyes when I see them get rewarded for the hard work they’ve put in,” Irving said. “It makes my job a lot easier.”
Thomas poured 11 points in the fourth quarter that helped the Nets break the game wide open again after the Lakers rallied in the third quarter and briefly took the lead. The second-year guard was highly efficient in 23 minutes, hitting 8 of 13 shots for only his third 20-plus point game this season.
“Nobody can go from sitting down a few games, getting cold, to getting up and making every shot,” Thomas added.
For Mills, it’s about having a stay-ready mentality.
It was a season-high for the 34-year-old veteran guard, who has only appeared in 30 of the Nets’ first 50 games this season after being a key cog of last season’s ill-fated squad.
“I think from a big-picture standpoint we’ve just worked out how to navigate the ship, I guess, and it definitely does feel a lot different than last year in that sense,” Mills said.
The Nets improved to 4-6 without Durant. Last season, they dropped 11 straight without him and went 5-16 overall.
Durant is optimistic about his chances to return in a few of Brooklyn’s next eight games before the NBA All-Star break.
In the meantime, the Nets need to muster performances from their bench like they did Monday night to stay afloat.
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