When the Brooklyn Nets last faced the Minnesota Timberwolves, a March 10 matchup in Minnesota, it was a back-and-forth affair that packed suspense that came down to the final seconds, twice. The Nets took a three-point lead into the final ten seconds of the game, before Naz Reid nailed a bomb at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Then, faced with a one-point lead in OT, Brooklyn nailed their second chance, and came up with a game-winning stop.
Fast forward to Tuesday night in Brooklyn, and the roles were reversed. Brooklyn, now down three points with under ten seconds left, needed their own big shot to force overtime. Spencer Dinwiddie, the game’s leading scorer, stepped back for a 3-pointer and was blocked. Well, at least according to the officials:
the non-call on Dinwiddie; judge for yourself: pic.twitter.com/0EBB0557SU— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) April 5, 2023
No foul, Brooklyn ball, eight seconds to go.
The Nets, having used their last timeout, quickly inbounded the ball to Dinwiddie again, who missed a tough, redemption 3-pointer from the corner, and Minnesota would hit their free-throws to hang on for a huge victory. Brooklyn would saunter off the floor, disappointed and probably a little peeved. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot would remain at 2, as they fell to the Timberwolves by a score of 107-102.
Winning guaranteed the T-Wolves a postseason spot in the NBA’s play-in tournament no matter what happens in their final two games.
The Nets were fortunate to be trailing by just seven after the first quarter concluded - they shot just 7-of-24 from the field, and had a bit of trouble containing Minnesota’s double-big offense. Brooklyn wasn’t getting decimated by any means, but it was clear they were going to have to make an adjustment after the first 12 minutes.
Heading into the contest, Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch said one thing his team had to “do a better job of is creating space at the rim. Like, we kind of collapse the paint; our spacing sometimes gets muddy. So, I actually think it’s being able to get guys to the rim better,” when asked about improving the offense. And that they certainly did, creating pressure at the rim through their size advantage, resulting in good looks:
Minnesota's size gave BKN some problems on the defensive end in that 1H, with Rudy getting deep post position: pic.twitter.com/uxFr0uPlb6— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) April 5, 2023
To make matters worse, Brooklyn was losing the paint battle on the other end as well, unable to unlock the rim vs. Gobert or generate much flow in the half-court. They scraped by, however, in transition, living the age-old mantra of turning defense into offense, largely thanks to Nic Claxton. Jacque Vaughn praised his starting center as having “an extreme ability to impact the defensive end of the floor” before the game, and Claxton showcased that ability early and often:
Here were those Claxton blocks from the 1Q that led to 5 BKN points in transition, by far their best source of offense: pic.twitter.com/UkdXDERqPw— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) April 5, 2023
A 31-24 deficit after the first was a win for Brooklyn, considering the circumstances; the easy buckets they got in transition proved to be a life raft.
In the second quarter, the Nets returned to the style basketball of basketball that resulted in the three-game wining streak they brought into Tuesday’s matchup, starting with cohesive team defense. They held the Wolves to just 17 points in the second-quarter, buoyed by strong defensive possessions like this, even when facing set plays out of timeouts:
Brooklyn brought the game into the trenches, and against a team with top-flight offensive talent like Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Edwards, it’s exactly where they wanted to be. Neither Minnesota star cracked double digits in the first half, as they each shot just 3-8 from the floor.
On the other end, transition offense continued to be their calling card; Brooklyn finished the game with a 23-9 advantage in fast break points, shooting a ridiculous 9/10 on the break. With Dinwiddie on the bench to start the second quarter, Royce O’Neale slotted into a ball-handling role, and he took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pace and ending up with the highlight of the night for Brooklyn:
“Yeah, that was a stretch where we had him pretty much handling the basketball,” said Jacque Vaughn, further complimenting his sixth man by calling him “pretty dependable for us. We’ll need that tomorrow also.”
When it wasn’t O’Neale operating, it was Dinwiddie, who finished with just six assists for the second time in a month, but more than made up for it with an array of aggressive scoring moves. The two-time Net finished with 30 points, cooking in both isolation and the pick-and-roll - it was a reminder that Dinwiddie, for all of his recent, impressive assist totals, burst onto the scene as a downhill scorer, and that’ what many Nets fans will remember him as:
“Obviously I’ve talked a lot about getting in the paint. Usually they help a little bit more and I have to find shooters. Today they didn’t help as much obviously being worried about the three ball. And so you have to finish a little bit more. That’s what you saw tonight. It’s unfortunate I didn’t make enough plays for us to win,” said Dinwiddie of his performance.
So, defense and Dinwiddie delivered Brooklyn a 54-51 lead heading into halftime, and the second half followed suit. The Nets simply could not unlock the paint in the half-court, as Gobert did what he does best. Brooklyn shot just under 61% at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass, a 28th percentile mark. The lean Frenchman finished with just one block, but turned layups into floaters, and floaters into passes.
Vaughn praised the three-time Defensive Player of the Year: “I think, overall, he’s played this defense for a long time since he’s come into the league. And I think he’s similar to Brook Lopez in the sense that he’s gained an IQ of where to be, where to play to his strengths, what his weaknesses are, to rely on his teammates to funnel the basketball to create angles for him to block shots.”
Mikal Bridges agreed, giving “kudos to him,” while also complimenting the other Wolves: “I mean, they just played good defense. I’m not gonna discredit them; they played good defense. We’ve just got to be better on both ends. But they did a really good job.”
The contest turned into a battle of the stars. Mikal Bridges flashed some occasional, tantalizing finishing ability at the rim, but made just nine of his 24 shots, resulting in an inefficient 24 points. This comes after a 9-of-25 performance vs. the Utah Jazz, marking a slight hit of the wall for a primary option that was a role player not two months ago. A couple of off nights is nothing to be overly concerned about, but the Nets needed just a little bit more from him on Tuesday.
Again, Vaughn credited Rudy Gobert for his excellent defense when discussing Bridges’ shooting woes: “Yeah I thought Rudy was really good. Conversely to the last time we played them, where he pretty much stayed in drop and allowed us to make those shots. He kind of switched some of those pick-and-rolls [tonight] and moved his feet a little bit and had some quality contests, which I thought was the difference in some of those looks for Mikal.”
Meanwhile, Edwards and Towns shot a combined 9-17 in the second half and got to the free-throw stripe consistently, each pouring in 14 points over the final 24 minutes. Their offense, despite commendable resistance from the Nets, ended up being the difference in the game.
Cam Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith, the latter of whom looks be over his shooting slump, combined to hit six of their nine 3-point attempts, but neither stepped outside of their roles to create offense off the dribble. The bench, despite Royce O’Neale’s best efforts, provided next to nothing, adding just 14 total points to Brooklyn’s total, including just six outside of O’Neale. Jacque Vaughn even turned to Cam Thomas, looking for some first-half offense, but the sophomore continued his rocky stretch of play by missing both of his shots and accounting for a turnover.
No matter where the Nets turned to, if it wasn’t Dinwiddie, it wasn’t successful. Their offensive rating in the half-court was a putrid 88.1, per Cleaning the Glass, and as the game slowed down in a hotly contested fourth quarter, that wouldn’t cut it.
Jaden McDaniels, who may earn All-Defense honors, certainly deserves credit for his individual efforts against Bridges. Gobert will retire as one of the league’s all-time rim protecting forces. The Wolves play very few outright negative defenders, who all did their job against Brooklyn. The Nets may not have scored effectively in this one, but it certainly wasn’t their most head-scratching performance.
“They just executed better than us, they just got more stops than us, and credit to them. We’ve just got to finish the game better,” said Mikal Bridges.
Spencer Dinwiddie, too, kept it simple in his analysis: ““They made a couple more shots and got to the free-throw line in the end, and we didn’t.”
Ultimately, Karl Anthony-Towns scored four huge points in isolation to put the Timberwolves up 102-100, and Dinwiddie couldn’t bail Brooklyn out one last time. There were no shocking errors, or erratic missteps from players or coaches in this one. The six key Nets (starters and O’Neale) all played over 32 minutes on the front end of a back-to-back. They just didn’t have enough this time.
Dinwiddie talks referees
Spencer Dinwiddie, as he often is, was eager to talk after Tuesday’s game. This time, it was about the referees, though far from the typical, fine-inducing type of rant you may expect after a late non-call: “[Edwards] hit me on the elbow. I mean, you saw it. The funny thing is I just did an interview, just an interview with you right, and you said my two favorite refs, and I said KC [Kevin Cutler] and (Zach) Zarba. That’s ironic isn’t it? That’s f***ing hilarious...But in general I actually say that I don’t change my mind on that. They’re two good dudes but they definitely missed one. Well several, actually. It’s a fact. We all saw the replays.”
Dinwiddie continued, “Right hand to god, like he said, I literally just said they were my two favorite refs like two days ago when he asked me for an anonymous poll. So it’s not so anonymous anymore. Again, I don’t change it. Like I said, they’re two good dudes. If I see them in the airport, it’s always love. KC’s from LA. But damn, they blew some. Jesus Christ. And it sucks because we’re fighting for a six seed. Nothing you can do but laugh about it now.”
Rough Cam Thomas minutes
As previously mentioned, Cam Thomas played five minutes in the second quarter on Tuesday, but instead of giving Brooklyn some offensive juice, his presence served as more of a sad reminder of how far he’s seemingly fallen since his epic run of three-straight 40-point games. Not that his career is over, or that he can never reach those heights again, of course, just that it’s a dramatic turnaround in just over a month.
Offensively, the three possessions he controlled showcased why he may not be getting a ton of run anymore. His first shot attempt came after sizing up Rudy Gobert on a switch, getting a decent look at a pull-up two and having it rim out. OK. His next possession, though, featured over ten seconds of him dribbling in place getting caught in the air, and turning the ball over on a jump-pass. Finally, a similar sequence occurred on the left wing, where he stepped back and airmailed a 3-pointer.
Missing shots is one thing, but far too often, in admittedly limited minutes, Thomas is stunting the flow of the offense. It’s one thing to do that when you’re scoring 40, but with little burn, and without adding much on defense, it’s tough to make the case for consistent Thomas minutes.
- Spencer Dinwiddie’s 30 points marked a season-high in a Nets uniform, and his fourth 30-burger of the season.
- Dorian Finney-Smith’s 14 points and 10 boards were good his second double-double of the season and, again, first with Brooklyn. Predictably, a slow night for milestones in this defensive slugfest.
- Brooklyn posted an 18-2 edge in fast break points in the first half, their second-biggest advantage in that category in a half this season, trailing just a 19-0 gap vs. the Golden State Warriors way back in the first half of their December game.
The Nets magic number for clinching the six seed is still two, a combination of Nets wins and Heat losses. Miami won last night in Detroit. The Nets have three games left, vs. the Pistons, Magic and 76ers. The Heat also have three vs. the 76ers, Wizards and Magic. Nets play Wednesday, but even if they win, they earliest they could clinch is Thursday, the Heat’s next game.
As SpongeBob might say...
Fortunately for the Nets, not much changed in the playoff race. They still have a magic number of 2 to clinch the six-seed, with three games left to play (as do the Miami Heat).
Brooklyn’s next opportunity to capture a win is immediate, as they’ll fly to Detroit and take on the Pistons in the second half of a back-to-back on Wednesday night. Tip is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.
For another, much more relieved perspective on Tuesday night’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, visit our sister site, Canis Hoopus
- Box Score: Minnesota Timberwolves 107, Brooklyn Nets 102 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Minnesota Timberwolves 107, Brooklyn Nets 102 (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: Spencer Dinwiddie vs. Wolves / 30 PTS (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Highlights: Mikal Bridges vs. Wolves / 24 PTS (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Jacque Vaughn on Brooklyn’s loss to Timberwolves (Video) - YES Network
- Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson in the Bronx (Video) - Meredith Marakovits - YES Network
- Edwards, Towns help Wolves edge Nets 107-102, end skid at 3 - Pat Pickens - AP
- Timberwolves edge Nets to bolster playoff chances - Reuters
- Nets’ hold on No. 6 spot more tenuous after tough loss to Timberwolves - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nic Claxton takes a seat for crunch time of Nets loss - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets fall to Timberwolves, playoff race tightens with three games remaining - Denis P. Gorman - Newsday
- Nets making playoffs a big accomplishment after tumultuous season - Denis P. Gorman - Newsday
- Nets lose to Timberwolves, fail to clinch playoffs while clinging to one-game lead for 6th spot - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- As Nets Struggle In Crunch Time, Vaughn’s Choices Come Under Scrutiny - Steve Lichtenstein - Steve’s Newsletter
- Timberwolves end losing streak, edge Nets and make play-in tournament - Chris Hine - Minneapolis Star-Tribune