Mikal Bridges was angry. So were the Nets after their loss to the Hornets on Thursday.
They knew they had let one slip away and that their play was beneath their standard. So Bridges took it personally and took it out on the Magic, who came to Barclays Center on Saturday with a nine-game winning streak, one shy of a franchise record.
Bridges scored 26 of his 42 points in the first quarter of the Nets’ 129-101 win. It was the most points scored by a Net in the first quarter since the NBA began tracking play-by-play data in 1996-97. The previous high was 24 by D’Angelo Russell in 2017.
“I was ready to play. Just didn’t like that loss against Charlotte,” said Bridges, who shot 12-for-20 from the field, 3-for-6 from three-point range and 15-for-18 from the free-throw line. “Obviously, I didn’t want the [Magic] to get history on our court. Just wanted to win that game.”
Bridges shot 8-for-11 in the first quarter, including 3-for-3 on three-pointers. He opened the game with a corner three-pointer and closed the first quarter by outscoring the Magic as the Nets took a 43-22 lead.
By halftime, he had 34 points, the most by an NBA player in the first half this season. He outscored the entire Magic starting lineup, which had 30.
It was the second-most points by a Nets player in the first half since 1996-97, behind Kyrie Irving’s 41-point half on March 15 last season.
“I’ve always talked about one of the things that makes him special is his will to win,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Most nights, you can not pencil but pen him in that he's going to be available, that he's going to give what he has. So I knew mentally that he was ready to get off to a good start.”
Bridges set career highs in free throws made and attempted. He was three points shy of his career high in points but didn’t care because the Nets won.
His teammates, however, wanted him to get as much as he could.
“Everybody wanted to see him do his thing,” Dennis Smith Jr. said. “Everybody wanted him to get 50 tonight. I think that’s what made it seem special.”
The Nets (10-9) recorded their biggest margin of victory this season. Their 73-point first half was their highest-scoring half of the season.
Bridges set a tone, but there already was motivation from losing by one point two nights earlier. Nets assistant coach Kevin Ollie gave a fiery pregame pep talk about how unacceptable it was to let that game slip away.
When the Magic (14-6) cut their deficit to 87-78 in the third quarter, Spencer Dinwiddie scored the Nets’ final 11 points of the period.
The Nets also had seven blocks, three from Bridges. Twice he blocked Magic forward and Team USA teammate Paolo Banchero in the first half and scored on the opposite end.
Smith, making his return after missing six games with a sprained back, had a season-high 11 rebounds to go with 10 points and six assists in 21 minutes.
During his postgame interview, Smith explained his night by saying he’s a savage. He wasn’t quoting rapper Megan Thee Stallion, explaining that it was a shout-out to the Nets’ training staff for having him ready to play after missing almost two weeks.
“You don’t just miss six games and come back like that,” Smith said. “It’s really because my wind felt so good. That’s why I felt like that.”
Dinwiddie added 22 points, including 15 in the third quarter. Cam Thomas, who started because Dorian Finney-Smith was out with a sprained back, had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The Magic may be one of the league’s surprise stories, but they served as a footnote for Bridges’ latest scoring display and the will that Vaughn said can impact games.
“I just want to win,” Bridges said. “If that’s me just scoring like that, that’s what it is, but I just did not want to lose that game.”