It was nearly a home embarrassment for the Brooklyn Nets Monday night at the Barclays Center. Facing the Los Angeles Lakers without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Brooklyn led by 19 points in the first half before an epic third-quarter collapse. Los Angeles opened the frame on a 14-0 run and would go on to lead by as many as six.

Kyrie Irving has been Brooklyn’s lifeline with Kevin Durant sidelined over the last two weeks. The guard had posted six straight games scoring 30-plus heading into the matchup, the longest streak in Nets franchise history. Irving scored 26 points on 7-of-16 shooting Monday, but it was an unlikely trio of non-rotation players that would play the hero against the shorthanded Lakers.

Patty Mills, Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe, all of whom have been tied to the end of the bench for the majority of the season, stepped into key roles to prevent a full-on meltdown in a 121-104 Nets victory.

Mills is averaging just 12.2 minutes per game after signing a two-year, $13 million extension this offseason. That contract for a six-foot, 34-year-old guard on a team that struggled to defend last year raised eyebrows. While those qualms are justified, games like Monday show why head coach Jacque Vaughn has raved about Mills’ value and professionalism in the locker room.

The Aussie scored 21 points while knocking down 4-of-7 threes. Mills’ energy off the bench has sparked the shorthanded Nets at several points this year. That trend continued Monday. The guard checked in for the struggling Seth Curry midway through the third and served as a catalyst on both ends.

Mills, who is widely regarded as the worst defender on Brooklyn’s roster, even forced his imprint on that end. The veteran picked Lonnie Walker IV’s pocket during the third quarter in isolation before rotating from the weakside to pick off a lob on the following play.

“If you stay ready you don’t have to get ready,” Mills said of his mindset being in and out of the lineup. “It’s preparation, it’s approach, it’s your mindset in being able to do the work when no one’s watching. That’s the professional in me that has been around and seen it and done it for so long.”

Vaughn shared a similar message about Mills’ veteran approach following his game-winning performance:

“He is the oldest dude on our team, and he works every single day preparing himself like he is going to play,” the coach said. “I’ve challenged him to still be ready to play when he’s called upon. He’s gone multiple games without playing and still works on his game because there’s gonna be a playoff game where Patty Mills is gonna have an impact because he’s mentally and physically ready to do that, just like tonight.”

Thomas would serve as Mills’ backcourt partner off the bench during the comeback. With the Nets down by four at the end of the third, the guard scored five straight to give his team the lead heading into the final frame. The 27th pick in the 2021 draft would finish with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting.

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Thomas has struggled to carve out a complementary role alongside Durant and Irving due to his struggles as a 3-point shooter and defender. However, both those areas suddenly looked like strengths with the Nets in a shocking hole Monday. The LSU product drained 4-of-6 three-pointers–all of which came late in the third and into the fourth quarter–while playing a far more engaged brand of defense than he had shown to date.

Thomas has been noticeably stoic while spending the majority of this season on the bench. The young guard recently was recently asked why he never smiles:

“Ain’t s*** funny,” the second-year Net replied via ScoopB.

However, Monday’s high-level performance even got the normally straight-faced Thomas to crack a smile:

The 21-year-old could be a hot commodity on the trade deadline as a buy-low candidate due to his rookie contract and microwave scoring ability.

The final piece of the puzzle was second-year big man Day’Ron Sharpe. The 29th pick in the 2021 draft has largely been a spectator to Nic Claxton’s breakout this season. Much has been made of Brooklyn’s lack of frontcourt depth behind Claxton with the team reportedly looking for help in that area ahead of the trade deadline, according to multiple sources.

And while he is a long way off from a rotation role on a playoff team, Sharpe flashed his raw physical potential against Los Angeles. The 21-year-old grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds (8 offensive) to go along with two blocks and eight points. At 265 pounds, Sharpe’s strength and athleticism could be attractive on the trade market with teams looking for rim-protection and lob threats at the modern center position.

Like Thomas, the North Carolina product could be a trade chip in the coming weeks as the Nets look to add more playoff-ready pieces.

Monday marks the first time the Nets have won back-to-back games since Durant went down on Jan. 8 in Miami. Vaughn’s squad is now 4-6 during the former MVP’s absence. Brooklyn will face a dramatically different challenge Wednesday as they look to extend the winning streak to three against the league-leading Boston Celtics at TD Garden.