BOSTON – After leading the Las Vegas Summer League in scoring as the surprisingly productive No. 27 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, 20-year-old rookie Cam Thomas faded into the background on a Nets team loaded with veterans, including superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden. In his first 10 appearances, he never scored more than four points while shooting 5-for-26.
But the Nets never lost faith in his potential, and after he produced a 46-point game with the G League Long Island Nets, Thomas returned to the NBA level and delivered when coach Steve Nash gave him meaningful minutes Monday night in Cleveland. Thomas scored eight of his 11 points in a 20-6 third-quarter run that wiped out a 12-point deficit and sent the Nets on their way to a 117-112 victory.
During that hot stretch, the Cavaliers were sending double-teams at Durant and Harden, and it was clear they were looking to pass to Thomas for open shots that he knocked down, including a three-pointer and a three-point play that tied the game at 80.
"That’s big-time for the two best players to have trust in you to knock down open shots," Thomas said. "That’s big-time, especially for a rookie. For them to have that confidence in me to knock down open shots means everything to me."
Earlier Monday morning at shootaround, Thomas said he has developed a close relationship with 16-year veteran Durant. "It means a lot because he’s KD," Thomas said. "For him to take me under his wing and explain certain stuff and joke around with me is really cool. I really appreciate him for that. It’s great."
The byplay between Thomas and Durant was evident after the game in Cleveland. Thomas spoke first in the postgame media session and was asked about the trash talking between he and Durant.
"I say I think I’m a better scorer at my age than he was, and he doesn’t believe that," Thomas said with a smile. "Then, he never wants to play me one-on-one. We play one-on-on at shootaround all the time, post-ups, and I beat him. Don’t tell him that. I beat him."
When Durant arrived for his postgame interview, he said he had been "prepped" regarding Thomas’ comments about their one-on-one activity, and he wasn’t having it.
"Cam said he beat me one-on-one?" Durant asked. "It was more than ridiculous. Cam is lying…We were in shootaround, and I beat him, 15-5. It’s an ongoing game, so the score doesn’t start over. At the end of the season, we’re going to tally up the points, but he’s down a lot.
"You know, he was feeling himself, so he’s going to come in here and fabricate."
With that settled, Durant gave Thomas credit where credit was due. "We need him to build on this," Durant said, looking ahead to Wednesday night’s game against the Celtics at TD Garden. "We don’t need him to be comfortable because he had a little 11-point game, because he made a couple shots. I’m always on him and he’s always on me, too, but I’m going to be on him even more now."