The Nets had been rocked by a trade demand from one of their stars for the third time in less than year.
Then, Cam Thomas put together a star turn, carrying the Nets to a come-from-behind 125-123 victory over the Wizards before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center on Saturday night.
Thomas poured in a game-high 44 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter. That helped the Nets, who had been stunned by Kyrie Irving’s trade demand, erase a 23-point deficit and pull out a victory.
The Nets trailed 123-122 with 12.2 seconds left, when Thomas drew a foul on Deni Avdija in the act of shooting. After a review, it was determined that Daniel Gafford had committed goaltending on the shot. After Thomas hit the and-one, the Nets had a lead they never gave up.
Monte Morris missed two from the charity stripe with 7.1 seconds left and the Nets held on.
Even the stoic Thomas had to smile.
“We [were] down by a lot, 18,” Thomas said. “I knew I had to come in and be aggressive.”
Shocked by the Irving news — and already playing with an injury-riddled squad — the Nets (32-19) had just eight available players at one point.
The Nets are 5-7 since Kevin Durant sprained his right MCL on Jan. 8. Irving — who hadn’t been listed on the initial injury report — was a late scratch with what the team called right calf soreness. The Nets also played without Ben Simmons and T.J. Warren, and lost Seth Curry and Markieff Morris during the game.
In the absence of injured Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis scored 38 to lead Washington (24-28), but fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
Irving is just the latest Net to try to remove himself from the team. Former MVP James Harden forced a trade to Philadelphia last Feb. 10, and Durant requested a trade over the summer. And now Irving has left Brooklyn both shocked and shorthanded.
“Some guys are more used to it than others,” Nic Claxton said. “But we’ve had stretches last year where we had like nine players available and we still went out and won games. So we just have to come out and keep the main thing the main thing, and shut out all the outside noise and go out and play as hard as we can and let the chips fall where they may.
“I mean, at the end of the day, it’s basketball. It is what it is. You can’t control — you’ve got to control what you can control, go out there, and whoever’s on the court, you’ve just got to go out and play the game to the best of your ability. We still got a job to do.”
And they did it.
Edmond Sumner had a career-high 29 points starting in place of Irving.
Claxton had an all-around strong night with 15 points, 13 rebounds, five assists. Most impressively, went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line.
But it was Thomas, the youngest player to score 40-plus points off the bench, who stole the show.
The Nets started off horribly, falling behind 44-21 with 49.9 seconds left in the first quarter on a Kendick Nunn free throw.
The Wizards still led 84-64 after a Porzingis foul shot with 8:44 left in the third. But the Nets used a 13-0 run — capped by consecutive Patty Mills 3-pointers — to cut the deficit to seven. That’s when Thomas dragged them across the line.
Thomas pulled the Nets within 99-97, and after collaring an intercepted pass, he beat Corey Kispert upcourt for a game-tying dunk that knotted it at 109-all. Thomas followed with an audacious step-back 3-pointer that gave the Nets their first lead of the night, at 112-110 with 5:46 to play.
Avdija put Washington back ahead 115-114. But Sumner sagely drove at Porzingis and fouled him out with 2:51 to play, sinking both free throws to give the Nets the lead.
With the Nets down 121-120 and under a minute left, Thomas’ 20-foot jumper put them ahead. Morris put Washington up, but with 11 seconds to play Thomas got fouled by Avdija. The referee review showed goaltending as well, by Gafford, and the Nets had a great escape.