No Kyrie Irving, no problem for the Brooklyn Nets. One day before the bombshell news of Irving’s trade to the Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn took the floor against Washington without the All-Star guard, as well as Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons and T.J. Warren. After falling behind by 23 points in the first half, the Nets seemed destined for a disheartening loss amid what feels like the never-ending off-court drama surrounding their lead guard.

Enter Cam Thomas.

The second-year guard exploded for a career-high 44 points on 16-of-23 shooting off the bench to lead the Nets to a dramatic comeback win. After trailing by 18 at the half, the Nets cut Washington’s lead to 10 midway through the second quarter before Thomas re-entered the game. And the 21-year-old’s mindset from that point on was clear:

“As soon as I came in in the third quarter I knew I had to turn up,” Thomas said postgame.

The 2021 first-round pick would go on to score 11 points to close the frame before pouring in 19 in the fourth to carry his team to victory. Thomas finds himself in rare company following his career night. The guard is the third Net in franchise history, and the first since 1980, to score 40 points off the bench.

Incredibly, the historic feat came in just 29 minutes of action. Thomas is the eighth player in NBA history to score 44 points in 29 or fewer minutes. The other names on that list: Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Klay Thompson, and Kemba Walker.

It’s no secret that Thomas can score in bunches. The LSU product led all freshmen in scoring at 23.0 points per game during his lone college season before earning the summer league scoring title the last two years. Despite his microwave-scoring ability, Thomas has been in and out of the rotation this season while struggling to fill a complementary role alongside Durant and Irving.

Bt the former 27th pick said Saturday’s performance is a testament to the work he puts in to stay ready:

“It shows how hard I’ve been working to be ready for this moment,” Thomas said. When my number is called and I do what I’m supposed to do and do what I can do and do what I’ve been doing all my life. So it just feels good to be ready and have an opportunity.”

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Edmond Sumner, who has also been in-and-out of Brooklyn’s backcourt rotation, scored 29 points in the win. And the first-year Net said he and Thomas pride themselves on a “stay ready” mindset when speaking postgame.

“People don’t see what we really go through every day. It’s hard not playing games when you’re busting your butt every day. For you to always stay mentally ready, it’s tough,” Sumner said. “For Cam to come out here and drop 44, that’s huge for him. I know how hard he works, I know how talented he is. We play to stay ready every day and we compete against each other every day.”

The narrative surrounding Thomas’ game early in his career has centered around his score-first mentality. Saturday’s performance was undoubtedly the most well-rounded of the guard’s NBA career. And Thomas said the all-around effort was simply a product of opportunity.

I had the opportunity to show my full game tonight. I’ve always been able to do that stuff,” he said. “It’s just what my coaches have asked me when I was coming up through every league or circuit I’ve been on. I had to score the ball for my team to win.”

“So whatever my team needs me to do to win, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not just going to do anything just to get praise from the media, because I don’t really care. I’m trying to help my team win.”

Cam Thomas shares a close relationship with Irving. Like the rest of his teammates, he was surprised to hear of Friday’s trade request but said he supports Irving no matter what.

“Of course everybody was surprised but, you know, that’s not my business, Thomas said. “That’s still my brother at the end of the day. He’s one of the few guys who I really consider a brother in basketball. Just a big brother I can look up to and ask anything. Whatever happens, happens. That’s my brother no matter what at the end of the day.”

Thomas and other supporting pieces will step into expanded roles with Irving traded to the Mavericks. The guard had no shortage of confidence when asked about his team’s ability to navigate the change:

“I always have hope, no matter who’s out there,” Thomas said. “Because we’re all pros at the end of the day. It’s not like only two people can play. A lot of guys contribute and play and help at any time. So really just want everybody to stay ready and we’re gonna keep hooping.