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Nets close out four-game road trip with frustrating loss, losing to Timberwolves, 136-125

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Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Unlucky breaks and a very frustrating loss.

It wasn’t the way the Nets were hoping to conclude their four-game road trip, losing to the Timberwolves, 136-125. With the defeat, Brooklyn falls to 29-17 on the season and 17-6 on the road.

While the Nets were on the wrong side of unfortunate breaks, it was a lackluster defensive performance that stretched the entirety of the loss. Brooklyn gave up a season-high 72 points in the first half and 64 points in the second half.

“A bit of everything. I don’t know if we gave enough resistance. Weren’t into the body enough and didn’t feel like our will or our force was felt defensively,” said Steve Nash after the 136-125 loss to the Timberwolves in Minnesota. “Whatever it was, we didn’t have the juice down there tonight. Maybe it’s the end of a trip or whatever it is, we tried to get them to find a way to hang in and see if we can get on a run defensively, but we just never could get it.”

Kyrie Irving was the only Net to find a consistent offensive rhythm in the loss, tallying a season-high-tying 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 shooting from three-point range. The Nets guard snagged six boards, dished five assists and recorded a steal as well in 35 minutes of play.

In the four-game road trip, Irving averaged 27.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists with shooting splits of 53/40/100 but the Nets came away with a 2-2 record and have fallen out of first place, giving up the top spot to the Heat. Irving will be ineligible to play in the Nets next two home games, Tuesday vs. the Lakers and Wednesday vs. the Nuggets. He will next be eligible to play on Saturday at Golden State.

Still, he put on a show when on the court...

James Harden had a particularly frustrating Sunday night in Minneapolis, recording a double-double of 13 points and 13 assists to go with five rebounds in 35 minutes but the Nets superstar guard coughed up a team-high six turnovers in the loss and shot 4-of-13 overall and only 1-of-4 from three, and did not attempt a shot attempt in the fourth quarter.

“They played a big, long lineup. They flooded the paint on a lot of his actions. I think they did a good job trying to make him play in a crowd,” said Nash on the Timberwolves play on Harden.

Harden himself pushed back on the notion that Minnesota pushed him into a tough night, saying...

“It was just me just kind of being passive and not really attacking how I need to attack consistently,” said Harden. “I put that on me as far as not being able to get to the basket consistently like I need to.”

After the loss, he explained how he doesn’t believe he’s getting the benefit of the whistle on foul calls on drives compared to previous years. The Nets head coach echoed his response.

“No,” said Harden on whether he believes he’s getting the benefit of the whistle on foul calls. “I don’t even want to talk about it. When I get to the basket, it’s the same calls and obviously, you can’t get all of them but there are ones that are stiff-arms and trips, and things like that, but on the other end, there’s no consistency. It’s frustrating.”

Still, Harden didn’t take a single shot in the fourth quarter.

Kessler Edwards, who was one of three Nets dealing with foul trouble, had another standout performance with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Patty Mills also provided a strong sharpshooting showing himself, scoring 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting overall and 5-of-10 shooting from behind the arc. Cam Thomas was the other Net to finish in double-figures, leading the bench with 11 points in 15 minutes of action.

Although Brooklyn held a strong rebounding margin throughout the game (48-37), the free throw shooting provided wonders for Minnesota. The Timberwolves scored a total of 26 points (26-of-31) at the foul line, compared to the Nets 14 points (14-of-15). Turnovers also were a clear deciding factor and a game-changer for the Timberwolves. The Nets’ 19 turnovers resulted in 28 points for the Timberwolves.

“It was a little frustrating. We know they do a good job of turning teams over. That’s how they get out, get in transition, and get their points. For us, the fouls were pretty frustrating,” said Harden on the turnovers and fouls. “Combination of both leads to not very good shots, not very good offense and them getting easy ones.”

Minnesota outscored Brooklyn on the fast break (18-9) and in points in the paint (52-48). The largest lead for the scrappy Timberwolves was 17 points. Two Nets — LaMarcus Aldridge and James Johnson — fouled out and Edwards finished with five personals.

After the loss Sunday night, Brooklyn falls to second in the very tight Eastern Conference standings, trailing Miami by half a game.

The Nets went with Harden, Irving, Mills, Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe to open the road contest at the Target Center. It was a scoring fest early with the two teams combining for 41 points in the first six minutes of play. After the back-and-forth filled with balanced scoring, Brooklyn’s defensive intensity — a center of focus the past few weeks — didn’t pick up, giving up 37 points in the first (led by D’Angelo Russell with 10 points). The Nets trailed 37-36 after one.

The Timberwolves had the upper hand to open the second, fueling their offense at the foul line, getting in the bonus only four minutes into the frame and off a pair of careless turnovers. After Edwards picked up his third foul, Brooklyn struggled to space the floor and create clean looks from the field, resulting in their offense going cold.

The offensive struggles lingered throughout the quarter. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, it was even worse. Minnesota went on to score a total of 17 points at the foul line in the first half missing only two. The Timberwolves went on to tally 72 points and a 10-point lead at halftime, behind 57 percent shooting from the field.

Although all 11 Nets saw minutes in the first half scored, there wasn’t any stretch of breakthrough offense — 45.3 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from three-point range. Only Mills (10 points) and Irving (10 points) were in double-figures at the break while the bench compiled 26 points.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite the Nets cleaning up on fouls, the play remained the same. Minnesota forged a 13-4 run spanning two and a half minutes of play to balloon their lead to 15 points with 6:39 left in the third.

Out of a timeout, Brooklyn finally caught a rhythm behind the sharpshooting of Mills and Edwards. The Nets trimmed the lead to seven points after Irving hit a crafty step-back jumper with 3:55 left, but couldn’t get over the hump. After a wild sequence that concluded in a right wing James Johnson three, Brooklyn hit the fourth quarter down seven (102-95). The 102 points allowed through three quarters are a season-high.

The Nets cut the deficit to four points after a 5-2 burst out of the gates, but the Timberwolves responded yet again in a funky way, building the lead back up to 12 points with six minutes remaining.

Minnesota continued to balloon their lead, behind the play of Karl Anthony Town, who dominated down low against Johnson. After expanding the lead to 17 with 2:51 left, Nash cleared the bench — Jevon Carter, Cam Thomas, Bruce Brown, DeAndre’ Bembry and Sharpe — to finish out the loss.

“I don’t think the defense was sustainable,” said Nash on the main factor why the Nets couldn’t get over the hump. “When you look at it, those two pockets in the third and fourth, we still gave up 64 points in the second half. If we’re going to come back and win a game down 12 or whatever at halftime, you got to put together sustainable runs defensively. We never could get more than a couple of minutes, two-three minutes of stops.”

The Film Room

To be clear, this was not the Nets’ night, as made evident by the clip above. The defense just couldn’t string together stops. The officiating was wonky. Plus, credit must be given to the Timberwolves for devising a help-heavy scheme to force James Harden into a tough 4-for-13 night (regardless of what the Beard had to say about the matter).

Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, gave the Wolves their props for the defensive game plan.

“You got to give them credit. They were locked in on the defensive end, showing a lot of help, boxes and elbows, and our ability to adjust on the fly looked good at times and it looked really bad just in terms of our spacing,” said Irving. “So you’ve got (Jared) Vanderbilt, (Jaden) McDaniels — two long wings being able to cover a lot of space — and they just stuck to a good game plan, I guess. Watched a lot of film. You could tell they were very communicative out there.”

That said, a specific stretch in the fourth quarter doomed Brooklyn. When LaMarcus Aldridge picked up his sixth foul at the 7:19 mark, the Nets were sent scrambling. In came in Day’Ron Sharpe, who was immediately subbed out for James Johnson at the 7:04 point; the Nets were electing to go small, hoping to survive just enough defensively while relying on its supernova offensive to carry them home, which has ranked in the top-4 since the turn of the new year.

It didn’t work.

Karl-Anthony Towns, previously having a tough night, got himself going after this three-pointer off an inbound. It’s absolutely inexcusable for James Johnson to have his hands down at his sides against the best shooting big man of all-time spotting up at the arc. Make that a 9-point lead for Minnesota.

With Towns feeling himself a bit, he began to start cooking Brooklyn’s defenders in isolation. His drive against Kessler Edwards pulls in help from James Harden, who doesn’t do a great job of actually committing to the double-team, and Patty Mills makes things worse by failing to rotate down to the corner to contest the open Tauren Prince. Minnesota’s lead grew to 12.

Another ATO from Timberwolves coach Chris Finch and another miscue from James Johnson, who bites on this fake dribble-handoff from Karl-Anthony Towns and fouls him, leading to an and-one finish for the Minnesota star. The lead grows to 15 now.

Oh, but you thought the misery was over? With Towns in an offensive inferno, the Wolves elected to run an empty side pick-and-roll with their scorching hot star and Anthony Edwards, giving Towns room to dominate inside without nearby help defenders. The Nets naturally switched this side pick-and-roll with their small and interchangable, placing Johnson on Anthony Edwards and Kessler Edwards (no relation) on Towns. Brooklyn’s rookie wing does the unthinkable and loses the hottest player on the court behind him on the roll to the rim, leading to a dunk. Minnesota sits pretty with a 14-point advantage.

By the end of it, Towns was just going silly. Minnesota posted him up once again at the 4:48 mark, and KAT essentially powers through two defenders for an absurd layup while falling out of bounds to give his Wolves a 16-point cushion. The game was basically over at that point.

Minnesota went on a 13-3 run when Brooklyn went with James Johnson at the five, effectively sealing the Nets’ fate. Hindsight is obviously 20-20, but the opportunity was there for the Nets to call timeout (Steve Nash had 3 remaining in the clip above) and sub in one of Day’Ron Sharpe or Blake Griffin, both of whom present far more size to wrestle with KAT on the block.

“Down the stretch, we’re trying to get some big stops and they went to kind of big guy in the middle (Towns) that was pretty silent for most of the night. Then he started getting to the line, started hitting threes,” said Irving after the game. “So it was just a tale of momentum shifts in the game.”

Maybe Brooklyn’s fate was sealed from the get-go in this one, but opposing runs like the one that Karl Anthony-Towns went on in fourth burn a little extra when they result from tactical decisions.

What’s next?

Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Nets will return back to Barclays Center to host the Lakers on Tuesday, Jan. 25. The game is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective, check out Canis Hoopus — our sister site covering the Timberwolves.