There have been four Brooklyn Nets players this season to score at least 40 points this season: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Cameron Thomas and now Mikal Bridges. In a 116-105 win over the Miami Heat Wednesday night, Bridges dropped a career-high 45 points to show exactly why the Nets coveted him so much in the blockbuster deal that sent Durant to Phoenix.
The efficiency with which Bridges got his 45 points is what stands out the most, in that he shot 70.8 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3-point territory. He also tacked on eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. That statline makes Bridges just the second player in Nets history to put up at least 45 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. The other player to do it? Durant.
It's ironic that Bridges joins Durant in posting that elite statline, given he was the player Brooklyn coveted the most from Phoenix in the trade that sent K.D. to the Valley of the Sun. It was reported that excluding Bridges from any trade package for Durant was a nonstarter for the Nets, and Wednesday night showed exactly why.
In Phoenix we saw a little bit of Bridges' playmaking ability and scoring off the bounce, but on a team that featured two All-Star talents in Devin Booker and Chris Paul he was primarily used as a spot-up shooter and lockdown defender. Against the Heat, we saw him put the ball on the deck a whole lot more, showing the possibility of what his game can be going forward. He got to his spots in the midrange with ease, getting off his silky jumper, and he showed off his efficient range from deep, too.
The beauty of Bridges' game is he can be effective on offense with or without the ball in his hands, which is beneficial when playing alongside Ben Simmons who needs the rock to be a threat. Just look at this seamless play where Bridges immediately drives toward the rim as soon as Simmons feeds him the ball. He didn't even take a dribble, and managed to pull off a tough layup that resulted in an and-1 opportunity.
Or how about this possession where he showed no fear in taking it straight at Jimmy Butler 1-on-1 and converted this difficult floater:
That's one of the best perimeter defenders, and a five-time All-Defensive player that Bridges is going against in Butler, but he doesn't shy away from the challenge at all.
It wasn't just the scoring that made this performance stand out. Bridges' defense was a highlight, too. That shouldn't be surprising given he's an All-Defensive player, and has been celebrated for his effort on that end of the floor since he entered the league. But when you put that side-by-side with the offensive performance he had, it elevates the lockdown defense to another level.
In the three games since being traded to the Nets, Bridges is averaging 25 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists. It's a small sample size, but it highlights why Brooklyn wanted Bridges in the Durant deal, and why they refused to trade him to another contender ahead of the deadline despite the endless amount of interest he drew from around the league. He's an exceptional two-way player who can be a key building block in Brooklyn's sudden rebuild, and if the Nets do decide to move off of Bridges in the offseason, then the price just went up after Wednesday's performance.