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A win is a win: Nets barely survive Timberwolves in OT, 124-123

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

Friday night’s contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves was something of a “prove it” game for the Brooklyn Nets. They essentially threw in most of the towel in Thursday’s contest against the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks, with every regular rotation player either ruled out prior to the game or playing less than twenty minutes. The logic of the decision was clear: Go all-in on the more winnable, second game of the back-to-back. Sometimes, practicality trumps pure competitiveness, no matter how lame that may seem.

But on Thursday afternoon (perhaps because of the Nets’ semi-waving of the white flag), the Bucks ruled out Giannis Antetokounmpo. A few hours later, the C-team Nets got within three points of Milwaukee in the fourth quarter before bowing out of a surprisingly fun contest. Maybe that game was winnable after all. Maybe playing Mikal Bridges and Dorian Finney-Smith more than 23 combined minutes would have resulted in a W. Either way, the next objective for Brooklyn was clear: They better damn beat the Timberwolves on Friday.

Thankfully, barely, heart-stoppingly, they did, by the slimmest of margins, 124-123, in overtime.

It didn’t appear as if the Nets got the memo, though, in the first half. They headed into the break trailing 68-60, lucky that it wasn’t more, having had no interest in defending over the first 24 minutes. Just getting punked, frankly, both as individuals and as a team:

Jacque Vaughn kept it simple: “We weren’t as locked in as we needed to be in the first half.”

The main reason the game was still a game was, unsurprisingly, Mikal Bridges. His array of drop-killing pull-up jumpers and corner threes led to 20 first half points for him, although zero rebounds and zero assists in that time-frame made for a funny-looking stat line. Regardless, Bridges the bucket-getter has been rather steady since becoming a Net, and perhaps none of his bucket-getting performances were as vital for Brooklyn as this one. Minnesota shot a scalding 56% from the floor in the first half while Rudy Gobert completely dried up the paint on the other end, and yet, the Nets were right in it.

“I don't think anybody knew that Mikal was this amazing offensively, just being completely real,” said Dinwiddie, rarely anything less than real. “It’s our job to make sure that he can get to his spots and get his shots and continue to stack up these 30’s as much as he possibly can.” Bridges would indeed wind up with another 30-ball in this one, scoring 34 points on 24 shots.

As it turns out, Brooklyn, aided by Seth Curry (ten points on five first-half shots) had indeed done just enough. They came out of the half-time gates with proper effort on the defensive end without sacrificing any of their long distance marksmanship - Brooklyn would finish 16-34 from deep on the night, good for 47%. Spencer Dinwiddie stepped it up in particular, pouring in 19 points in the second half and OT to finish with 29 and 11 assists (both season-highs as a Net). It wasn’t always smooth for Dinwiddie, as the foul calls he’s constantly searching for weren’t there every time. But in the second half, he continuously got to the paint and made the right play, one of which was this thunderous dunk:

And Dinwiddie is nothing if not clear on his role: “The coaches want me to just get into the paint. Let the game dictate what the read is at the time; sometimes I make mistakes and shoot when I should pass or pass when I should shoot. But overall, the mentality is just ‘get in the lane and break down the defense.’” The two-time Net did just that throughout the second half.

But again, the main reason Brooklyn won the third quarter by a score of 37-20 was their defense. They certainly benefitted from some luck - the Timberwolves missed their first 11 3-point attempts after the break, some of which were open looks - but the Nets finally figured out how to better guard the pick-and-roll game. There’s a reason Gobert was Minnesota’s leading scorer after the first two quarters, a constant beneficiary of dribble penetration and lobs from Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson. This improved defense continued past the third, later into the night:

With 5:44 left in the fourth quarter, Brooklyn held a 109-101 lead, and Royce O’Neale was heading to the free-throw line following a foul on a fast-break. Only, the Timberwolves successfully challenged the foul call, and O’Neale would not get to shoot those free throws; it turned out to be a major turning point.

Brooklyn would score just five measly points throughout the rest of regulation, Nic Claxton fouled out in the middle of it, and what looked like it what would be a Nets win going away turned into a nail-biter. Thankfully, the Nets defense then answered their two biggest tests of the night. Holding a one-point lead with under 40 seconds left, they faced Anthony Edwards tumbling towards the rim on consecutive possessions. A turnover and a brick later, it seemed Brooklyn had iced the game, up 114-111 with less than two seconds left.

Oh, if only it were so simple:

After allowing just 43 points in the second-half up to that point, after repeatedly executing switches and forcing various Timberwolves to drive into multiple bodies when they stepped inside the arc, the Nets went bozo-mode on the very last possession of regulation. There were defenders inside the arc while up three points, and they still managed to bungle a key switch. An open look for Naz Reid resulted in a swish, and it looked like an excellent second-half could be all for naught.

Overtime was even more stressful for Nets fans, despite watching Dinwiddie have his best stretch so far in his second go-round in the black-and-white. Dinwiddie had two buckets on Brooklyn’s first two possessions of the extra frame, but the Nets trailed by three with under 90 seconds to go. Then, he penetrated into the lane and found, who else, Mikal Bridges, for a game-tying three. A couple of breaths later, he did the same, finding Dorian Finney-Smith for the go-ahead and ultimately game-winning three. DFS may have entered Friday’s game shooting under 23% from deep as a Net, but boy, that one make outweighs a whole lot of misses.

Finally with a second chance to get it right, the Nets did just that, shutting down the Timberwolves offense in the final seconds. Active help and clean contests allowed Brooklyn and its fans to exhale, this time for good:

“I think it typifies what we did in the second-half. I think we were pretty impressive on the defensive end, and that really gave us a chance to win tonight,” said Jacque Vaughn of the last-second stop.

The gambit worked, and all is forgiven ... the load-management Gods appear to be nonplussed about Brooklyn’s actions on Thursday night. The Nets end up splitting the Milwaukee-Minnesota back-to-back, and remain tied with the New York Knicks in the loss column for the Eastern conference’s five-seed. (They are two losses back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the four-seed.) Not a bad swing through the central time-zone for Brooklyn, who have responded to a four-game losing streak out of the All-Star Break with a 4-1 stretch over their last five games.

Milestone Watch

  • One beneficiary of the Nets being forced to go small, thanks to Nic Claxton’s six fouls, was Royce O’Neale. He matched his career-high in rebounds with 15 of ‘em. Those 15 boards were also good enough for O’Neale’s second-straight double-double, a career-first.
  • Speaking of Nic Claxton, although he recorded six fouls, he also recorded four blocks, good to move back into a tie with Brook Lopez for the league lead in total blocked shots (161).
  • Random but true: The Nets have outscored their opponent by double digits in the third quarter 11 times this season, including in Minnesota. Nine of those 11 third quarters have come on the road.
  • That marked the Nets’ first overtime win this year in just their second OT appearance. Do you remember the first? Take a was Brooklyn’s awful loss to the Dallas Mavericks way back on October 27th. Remember that? Hopefully not.

Getting the day off

Six players who had a big role in Brooklyn’s failed comeback against the Bucks Thursday got DNP’s on Friday; Patty Mills, Edmond Sumner, Dru Smith, David Duke Jr., Yuta Watanabe, Nerlens Noel and Day’Ron Sharpe all got the night off. Cam Thomas who scored 21 points in 29 minutes vs. the Bucks, played only five minutes vs. the T’Wolves, scoring one point.

Yuta Watanabe greets a big (if little) fan

As Sponge Bob might say

What’s next?

The Nets have Saturday off, then play the Denver Nuggets in a Sunday matinee starting at 3:30 p.m. ET

For a different, likely sadder perspective on Brooklyn’s win over Minnesota, visit our sister site Canis Hoopus.