NEW YORK — Thursday’s loss to an undermanned Charlotte Hornets squad came down to a lack of concentration for the Nets. But in Saturday’s 129-101 defeat of the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center, Mikal Bridges and his teammates were locked in from the start to finish against the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets’ bounce-back performance was sparked by arguably the best quarter Bridges has ever had in the NBA. Head coach Jacque Vaughn kept the 6-6 forward on the court for the entire first quarter and he poured in 26 points, the most points he has scored in any quarter in his career, and the most first-quarter points by a Brooklyn player in the play-by-play era.
Bridges single-handedly outscored Orlando in the first quarter, helping the Nets (10-9) to a 43-22 advantage entering the second. And his 34 points on 10-of-14 shooting by halftime gave him the highest-scoring half by any player in the league this season. Entering the locker room with a 73-51 lead, it was also the Nets’ highest-scoring half and largest halftime lead of the season.
Bridges, who finished with a game-high 42 points, five rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes, recently tied a career high with 45 points in a 147-145 overtime loss to the Hawks on Nov. 22. The Nets visit Atlanta again on Wednesday.
But as Bridges cooled down, so did the Nets in a sense. The 27-year-old was limited to just one point in the third quarter and Brooklyn was outscored, 34-25. The Magic, led by Paolo Banchero and the Wagner brothers, refused to go away. And just like that, what was once a 25-point lead for the Nets had been trimmed down to 13 entering the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for Brooklyn, Dennis Smith Jr., who returned from a six-game absence on Saturday, was eager to create a little more separation for his team. He scored six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter to help keep Orlando out of striking distance, driving aggressively to the rim, crashing the glass and hounding opponents on defense. Then Bridges took over the game again with 5:50 left, as he scored seven straight points then assisted on a 3-pointer for Cam Johnson to push Brooklyn’s lead back up to 23 with 4:24 left.
Smith, who also had 11 rebounds, finished four assists shy of his fourth career triple-double. He was plus-18 in 21 minutes off the bench. Spencer Dinwiddie added 22 points and while Cam Thomas (20 points) shot just 7 of 23 from the field in the win. Thomas also contributed seven rebounds and five assists.