Mikal Bridges leads Nets to blowout win over Orlando Magic

Mikal Bridges leads Nets to blowout win over Orlando Magic

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.

“I just did not want to lose that game,” Bridges said.

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.

“I knew that he would be ready to play,” Vaughn said of Bridges. “He was as frustrated and disappointed as I was after the Charlotte game… So I knew mentally that he was ready to get off to a good start. Just hoped the ball went in for him. He had a great start defensively vs. Franz [Wagner], and so a lot of good things happened early for him.”

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.

The Magic entered the night on a nine-game winning streak. And the Nets were able to snap that streak without Dorian Finney-Smith (right knee/foot soreness) and Lonnie Walker IV (left hamstring strain), who were both inactive on Saturday.

Smith, who also had 11 rebounds, finished just four assists shy of his fourth career triple-double. He was plus-18 in 21 minutes off the bench.

“You don’t miss six games and come back like that,” Smith said. “It was really because my wind [felt] so good… Our training staff helped me do that, so that’s a shout out to them.”

Spencer Dinwiddie added 22 points and while Cam Thomas shot just 7-of-23 from the field in the win, he also contributed seven rebounds and five assists.

The Nets ended a five-game homestand with a 4-1 record. They have won seven of their last nine home games and four of their last five games overall.

“Great response from our group,” Vaughn said. “A lot of times, that’s how you can really judge if the team is getting better. Do they want to get better? Is there a care factor to getting better? And we showed all three things tonight. I think a big part of it, you see — I think we were leading that game from beginning to the end, and that’s four quarters of us putting good basketball on the floor. And so that says a lot from our group, especially against a team that’s been playing at a high level.”

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