Mikal Bridges is not trying to be Kevin Durant. It’s not possible. Durant is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, averaging nearly 30 points over his entire career. Bridges highlighted the package the Nets received to send Durant west.
What he’s trying to do, though, and what was on full display on a career night in Brooklyn’s 116-105 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday, is make his own mark on a Nets team that still hopes to make the playoffs.
“You traded a future Hall of Famer averaging nearly 30 for his career. So, you know, I’m just trying to keep improving and get to the point where I can score a little bit more,” he said after the game. “I think it’s simple sometimes. [Phoenix] team over there added a piece like KD and TJ, it’s a big time. I think defensively I can play better what KD will lack on defense, but he brings another dimension to them making the ball. Yes, I’m confident about scoring the ball, but the guy has been doing it for all these damn years and doing really well and efficiently with it too.
It looks, feels, and even sounds different when Bridges is running. The unfamiliar sounds of celebration echoed from the Nets locker room after the striker’s career night.
After a particularly poor pitching performance in Monday’s loss to the Knicks, Bridges responded by firing up the Heat on Wednesday. He scored 45 points with eight rebounds and five assists and took control of the game down the stretch of the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his 45 in the final period alone.
Bridges said he knew he needed to score more in the fourth quarter as the Heat kept the game close late.
“I just came in and I was feeling good and they kept meeting me and trusting me a lot,” he said.
He became a new fan favorite in the Barclays Center starting lineup, drawing chants of “Brooklyn Bridges” that grew louder with each game he played in his new home.
“I love it. I love it so much,” he said of the new moniker. “It fits, simple, makes sense. So it’s really cool. I really like it a lot.”
His explosive scoring night is a welcome sight for a Nets team whose primary concern going into All-Star halftime is generating offense — whether as a by-product of moving the basketball or in isolation situations.
If Bridges plays like this every night, the Nets’ rapid rebuild could be faster than expected.
The Nets are no longer able to lean heavily on individual scorers after trading Durant and Kyrie Irving to the West, but at times on Wednesday, they were able to lean on Bridges.
He worked the midrange, showing off his elbow stop-and-pop all night long. He was efficient in the center of town, converting on four of his six deep attempts. He created for his teammates, broke the glass and took turns defending Miami’s best available perimeter player, Jimmy Butler, who added just 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field.
And he sealed the game on a baseline cut, where Royce O’Neale found him for a two-handed dunk that served as the nail in the coffin.
“My teammates kept finding me. They felt I was doing well and they kept catching the ball and setting the screens and letting me operate and train just drawing things as well,” he said. “They gave me the confidence to go out there and just be aggressive but man I want to do all that and win too. I just feel like if you do all that and you lose, it’s like an empty statistic to me. I’m happy we got the W and everyone played well.”
Cam Johnson, who arrived in Brooklyn with Bridges in the Durant deal, scored 18 points, and Cam Thomas added 19 off the bench. All five of the Miami Heat’s starters scored in double figures, led by 24 by Bam Adebayo and 21 by Gabe Vincent.
The Net’s defense held the Heat’s bench to just 17 points.
The Nets now have a week break, where a team with a lot of new faces will try to build chemistry going into the second half of the season.
Chemistry looks so much better when the Nets have a player who can shoulder the offensive load. Bridges proved that he can. If he can do that over the long haul, the Nets may have the answer to some of the problems that have kept them from generating quality offenses.
“Mikal Bridges is open-minded but at the same time aware that he can communicate with his teammates,” coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game. “He has a joy about him every day I see him at the gym. He works on his game. So extremely pleased he is a part of our future going forward.
“If you want different guys to represent you as a franchise, I’m sure when he goes to schools and makes public appearances, when he’s in the locker room with this group, when he’s talking to his coach after today’s walk, extremely impressive. as a human being and 45 helps as a basketball player as well.”
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