If you thought the Brooklyn Nets were out of ways to stumble at the finish line, you were mistaken. It’s a reasonable mistake given their season thus far, but a mistake all the same.
Tonight’s pebble which the Nets tripped over — just a few feet from the red tape — was the charity stripe, a place Brooklyn’s struggled at of late, but never in a game’s waning seconds like they did tonight. With game-tying free throws being the game-tying field goals of basketball, Tyler Bass might want to commiserate with the Mikal Bridges tonight.
But contrary to popular, or just our simple-minded belief, games aren’t won or lost on one play. Each step you take to get to the finish line plays a part. While the Nets did a lot right this evening, they learned just one or two paces or one or two degrees off the course will prove fatal against a Western Conference titan like the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Final: Minnesota Timberwolves 96, Brooklyn Nets 94
The Nets’ offense has been playing Where’s Waldo for the Nets ever since mid-December, but Brooklyn found it early tonight. Opponents’ switching D is giving anyone on the Brooklyn roster not named Cam Thomas absolute hell during the past few weeks. Minnesota came out in the drop. Doing so allowed Brooklyn to hit some early jumpers off the screen and establish an offensive flow.
It’s a kryptonite common among defenses wielding Rudy Gobert and the Nets did their homework, exploiting it as often as possible. Mikal Bridges hit a few mid-range looks and the Nets found open threes off Minnesota’s crashing defenders. The team tallied nine assists in the period as a result.
The fourth quarter seemed to come early in the following frame, as Minnesota jumped out to a 9-0 burst to retake the lead early in the second quarter. Still with a little gas from his 62-point outburst earlier this week, Karl-Anthony Towns hit the NOS in this period, abusing Brooklyn’s own switch this time.
KAT hurt the Nets with his size, finishing easily over Dennis Smith Jr., Royce O’Neale, or anyone else that got switched onto him. Towns also sprinkled in some nice finishes vs Nic Claxton, who otherwise enjoyed a solid evening vs the game’s deepest front court.
“I think I’m a great big man,” Claxton said when asked about going up against great fives like Gobert and Towns. “Anytime I have a matchup like that against one of the ‘top centers in the league’ I always take it personal to go out there and just be the best version of myself.”
Clax finished tonight with 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals. It went down as his 16th double-double of the season and his seventh in his last 10 games. He also credited his teammates for finding him in the right spots tonight enroute to his stat sheet-stuffing evening.
Again, it was Cam Thomas who momentarily kept the Nets in the game after the Towns onslaught, getting up to 13 points by halftime. When Gobert returned, it was his turn to chip at the cracks in Stilfe Tower. But after one or two tunnel-vision shots, Vaughn re-introduced Thomas to the bench and the Nets to their stagnant offense. Another 9-0 Minnesota run.
“I know I ran him for a nice stretch,” Vaughn noted postgame. “I don’t like running guys for 12 minutes straight. Even tonight I didn’t do it with Mikal. It’s just hard to do in this league if you want an effort on both ends of the floor. But Cam was great for us. 10 Free throws for him, to get to the line, getting downhill against Gobert at the rim. His ability to shot make for us, some really good signs from this group.”
While the Nets avoided anything leading to Anthony Edward fireworks at the other end, they still turned the rock over four times in the period, several live ball. Minnesota blanketed Brooklyn in the second period’s final four minutes to carve out a lead. Challenging Gobert at the rim one too many times, or in the spirit of my earlier metaphor, superman at the in the sky, they fell behind 60-48 at the half. Thomas led all Nets at this point with 13 points on 5-8 shooting despite logging just 12 minutes.
“The second quarter was the biggest difference in the game,” Vaughn said. “There was a stretch where Towns ended up going off a little bit when they went with him and Naz. We had a few breakdowns defensively in communication with some of our switching. Luckily, we had a half to acknowledge that, look at it on film, correct it, and that’s the best part of this team. These guys kept fighting.”
Fight the Nets did, but in the third, Anthony Edwards came out with his gloves on. It was miracle for Brooklyn that I got this far into my write up without needing to mention his name. Hitting shots off screens and punishing opponents in isolation, the Ant-Man smashed Brooklyn with 10 points in the period. For the game, he finished with 24 points but only shot 8-23 from the field.
Spencer Dinwiddie rose up to hold the Nets steady if not dominant. A guy who’s likely given points bettors more headaches than any other hooper, Spence’s third quarter was like two two tylenols and an orange gatorade. He nailed three shots from deep during the frame, the last of which cut the Minnesota lead down to six at the three minute mark of the third.
Both defenses tightened up soon after that, as the Nets kept fans in that anxiety-infused limbo spot: at one point looking like they were ready to make a run to put real pressure on the TWolves and then, ready to go quietly into that good weekend. Not much of a surprise,t he latter won.
Brooklyn ran their offense through Thomas late. Jacque Vaughn didn’t need to flip a coin between him and Mikal Bridges as No. 1 struggled all game with 16 points while shooting 8-18 from the field. He did however hit a tough and-one which cut the Minnesota lead to four, and then another layup soon after to make it a two-point game with just over three to play.
For all their might, Minnesota’s bigs helped the Nets stay in it late with a slew of offensive fouls, traditional turnovers, and missed free throws. Gobert’s worst mistake came with just over a minute to go when he infiltrated too much of Cam Thomas’ personal space on a baseline jumper, giving CamT two free throws which would tie the game.
But at the end of the day, Gobert and Towns are “stars.” Having two is a luxury the Nets have notably gone without this year and Minnesota made that clear in the final few seconds.
Two possessions after the tie, KAT fed his fellow seven-footer an alley-oop slam to take the lead. Bridges had a chance to tie it at the line after drawing a foul with 2.4 seconds to play, but the 83.9% career shooter from the stripe missed his first shot, then the one after in a failed rebound-and-score attempt.
“It’s for us as a group to continue to fight,” Vaughn said when asked about his message to Bridges after the game. “It’s never one play. Throughout the course of the game we make adjustments, turn those dudes over in the second half, especially the fourth. We held this team to 36 points in the second half — those guys in there, not someone else, those guys. So I give them a tremendous amount of credit for fighting, being resilient, and we’re gonna do it again. You get a chance to do it again in another 48 hours.”
Even with that blunder, the Nets were +5 in the fourth quarter, nothing to write home about but an improvement over their astonishing but embarrassing metrics from their prior two games. The Nets were a collective -40 in the final period vs the Knicks and Clippers.
As Vaughn alluded to, Brooklyn’s defense also remained solid. While nobody wants to talk about it given the slide they’re currently experiencing, the Nets are arguably going through their best defensive stretch of the season. They’ve now given up less than 115 points per game in six of their last seven games including tonight, making it only their second stretch for the season this year.
Unlike the defense, the bench has been consistently solid all year. Brooklyn’s reserves outscored Minnesota’s by 14 points largely thanks to Thomas, who finished with 25 points, including 10-of-10 from the line 7-of-15 from the field.
With trade season here and the Nets carrying a bevy of role players, several with expiring deals, there’s been no shortage of trade rumors involving their players. When asked about whether trade fever might be affecting guys in the locker room Vaughn kept it real.
“I acknowledged to the group in all honesty,” Vaughn said. “I just like being transparent. I told these guys this is the nature of our business. That’s what we do. For some guys. It’s going to be harder just because either they haven’t been traded or they’re not used to their names being in rumors. But that’s the world we live in. There’s so many sites that you can go on. You got your phone with you 24/7.”
“You got a job,” he added. “Either play for the name on the front or pay for the name on the back. So playing for name on the back, make your kids, your mom, your aunt proud of you, that you have pride when you go out on the floor. Play for the name on the front. On the first and 15th you get a check. You have a job. This is unbelievable career. Play as hard as you can. I acknowledge that to the group. That’s the world we live in. It might affect some dudes more than others.”
“I don’t think so, I don’t know,” said Claxton when asked about trade rumors affecting play. “You know, we’re all humans and we know it’s a part of the job. I think we’re just trying to lock in now and do what we can do here, but I don’t know. You gotta ask everybody.”
- Nic Claxton (16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks) has recorded his team-high 16th double-double of the season (seventh in his last 10 games). He’s now averaging a double double for the season — 12.4 points, 10.1 rebounds — as well as 2.2 blocks, sixth in the league.
- Nets have outscored each of their last five opponents in the third quarter, registering a third-quarter advantage of +42 points. Of course, they lost all five.
- Cam Thomas has tallied a team-high 25 points (7-of-15 FG, 10-of-10 FT) off the bench. This is Thomas’ 20th game with 20+ points this season, including three of his last four games and five of his last seven overall.
Noah Clowney, called up two days ago, was a DNP-CD (Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision) in his first game up.
The Sabrina-Steph shootout is coming
After the Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu blew everyone away with her 3-point shooting at the WNBA All-Star weekend last summer — making 37 of 40 from beyond the arc, everyone wanted to see a match-up between the WNBA’s best deep shooter and the NBA’s best, Steph Curry.
“Everyone” included the two superstars. “We gotta settle that one, for sure, who’s the better 3-point competition shooter.” said Curry in issuing his challenge. “Let’s get itttt,” Ionescu tweeted, adding three laughing emojis.
Now, the match-up is set. Ionescu and Curry will face off in Indianapolis next month at the NBA All-Star Game. Shams Charania broke the news Thursday...
Exciting competition planned: A 3-point Shootout between Golden State’s Stephen Curry and WNBA NY Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu at NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, sources say. Two 3-point contest champions. Curry hinted at the possibility tonight while mic’d up vs. Kings. pic.twitter.com/ccXYRsxj4B— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 26, 2024
The contest has echoes of the Billy King-Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” fifty years ago. (And you can sure that’s how it will be portrayed for better or worse.)
The Nets will stay in Brooklyn for a date with the Houston Rockets. The boys from Space City beat the Nets last time out 112-101 final score where Brooklyn’s top scorer that night, Cam Johnson, only reached 16 points.
It’ll be a loaded matchup with the Rockets possessing Brooklyn’s firsts this year and 2026 as well as pick swaps in 2025 and 2027, the product of the now-infamous James Harden trades. With Brooklyn currently holding the NBA’s eighth worst record, they’re more likely to give Houston a lottery selection unless they turn things around.
For a different prospective, head on over to Canis Hoopus.
- Box Score: Minnesota Timberwolves 96, Brooklyn Nets 94 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Minnesota Timberwolves 96, Brooklyn Nets 94 (Video) - AP
- Jacque Vaughn on the Nets loss, four straight at home (Video) - YES Network
- Royce O’Neale talks about what the Nets can do better (Video) - YES Network
- Reeling Nets fall to Timberwolves after Mikal Bridges misses key free throw - Bridget Reilly - New York Post
- Nets’ Ben Simmons could return soon in recovery timeline surprise - Bridget Reilly - New York Post
- Towns scores 27 points, Edwards gets 24, Timberwolves hang on for 96-94 win over Nets - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Ben Simmons’ looming return fails to ignite Nets, whose second-half rally falls short vs. Timberwolves - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets’ Ben Simmons could return from his back injury next week - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Wolves hold on for road victory over Brooklyn Nets - Chris Hine - Minneapolis Star-Tribune