Friday night’s contest vs Minnesota Timberwolves it was something of a “prove it” game for the Brooklyn Nets. They essentially threw in the towel for the most part in Thursday’s contest against the Reds Milwaukee Bucks, with every player in the regular rotation either being sent off before the game or playing less than twenty minutes. The logic of the decision was clear: go all-in on the more profitable, second back-to-back game. Sometimes practicality trumps pure competitiveness, as lame as that may seem.
But on Thursday afternoon (perhaps because the Nets were half-waving the white flag), the Bucks shut out Giannis Antetokounmpo. A few hours later, the C-team Nets got within three points of Milwaukee in the fourth quarter before dropping a surprisingly entertaining contest. Maybe that match was winnable after all. Maybe playing Mikal Bridges and Dorian Finney-Smith more than 23 combined minutes would result in a W. Either way, the next goal for Brooklyn was clear: They damn well better beat the Timberwolves on Friday.
Fortunately, barely, heart-stoppingly, they succeeded, with the smallest of differences, 124-123, in overtime.
Still, the Nets didn’t seem to get the memo in the first half. They went into the break with a 68-60 deficit, luckily it wasn’t more, since they had no interest in defending themselves during the first 24 minutes. To be honest, I’m just punking, both as individuals and as a team:
Jacque Vaughn simply said, “We weren’t as closed as we should have been in the first half.”
The main reason the game was still a game was, unsurprisingly, Mikal Bridges. His streak of killer jumpers and three-pointers from the corner led to 20 points for him in the first half, although zero rebounds and zero assists during that time period made for laughable stats. Regardless, Bridges, a bucket scorer, has been pretty steady since becoming a Net, and perhaps none of his breakout performances have been as vital to Brooklyn as this one. In the first half, Minnesota shot as much as 56% from the floor while Rudy Gobert completely dried the paint on the other end, and again, the Nets were right.
“I don’t think anybody knew that Mikal was this incredible offensively, just that he was completely real,” said Dinwiddie, rarely anything less than real. “It’s our job to make sure he can get to his spots and get his shots and keep getting those 30s as long as he can.” Bridges would indeed finish with another 30-ball in this one, scoring 34 points on 24 shots.
It turned out that Brooklyn, helped by Seth Curry (ten points on five shots in the first half), did just enough. They came out of the halftime gate with a real defensive effort without sacrificing any of their long range shooting – Brooklyn would have finished 16-34 deep into the night, good for 47%. Spencer Dinwiddie in particular stepped it up, pouring in 19 points in the second half and overtime to finish with 29 and 11 assists (both net season highs). It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Dinwiddie, as the fouls he keeps looking for haven’t been there every time. However, in the second half, he continuously came to the racket and made the right play, one of which was this thunderous dunk:
And Dinwiddie is not entirely clear about his role: “The coaches want me to just get into the paint.” Let the game dictate what you read at that moment; sometimes I make mistakes and shoot when I should pass or pass when I should shoot. But overall, the mentality is just ‘get into the lane and break the defense.'” The double Net did just that during the second half.
But again, the main reason Brooklyn won the third quarter 37-20 was their defense. They certainly benefited from some luck — the Timberwolves missed their first 11 three-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, consistently enjoying dribble penetration and lobs from Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson. This improved defense continued after the third, later in the night:
With 5:44 left in the fourth quarter, Brooklyn led 109-101 and Royce O’Neale headed to the free throw line after a fast-break foul. Only, the Timberwolves successfully contested the foul call, and O’Neale failed to shoot those free throws; it turned out to be a major turning point.
Brooklyn would score just five measly points the rest of regulation, Nic Claxton fouled out in the middle of it, and what looked like what would have been a road win for the Nets turned into a nail-biter. Fortunately, the Nets defense then answered their two biggest tests of the night. Trailing by one point with less than 40 seconds left, they faced Anthony Edwards, who raced toward the rim on back-to-back possessions. A turnover and a brick later, Brooklyn appeared to have iced the game, leading 114-111 with less than two seconds left.
Oh, if only it were that simple:
Having allowed just 43 second-half points up to that point, committing back-to-back turnovers and forcing various Timberwolves to hit multiple bodies when they stepped inside the arc, the Nets went into bozo mode on the final possession of regulation. There were defenders inside the arc as they went up three points and still managed to miss a key switch. Naz Reid’s open look resulted in a strike and it looked like an excellent second half might be for naught.
Overtime was even more stressful for Nets fans, despite watching Dinwiddie have his best stretch yet in his second go-round in black and white. Dinwiddie had two buckets on Brooklyn’s first two possessions of the extra frame, but the Nets trailed by three with less than 90 seconds left. He then stepped into the lane and found, who else, Mikal Bridges, for the tying three. A few breaths later, he did the same, finding Dorian Finney-Smith for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning three. DFS he may have entered friday’s game shooting under 23% from as deep as the net, but man, that success outweighs a lot of misses.
Finally with another chance to make things right, the Nets did just that, shutting down the Timberwolves’ offense in the final seconds. Active help and clean contests allowed Brooklyn and his fans to exhale, this time for good:
“I think that typifies what we did in the second half. I think we were pretty impressive defensively, and that really gave us a chance to win tonight,” Jacque Vaughn said of the last-second stop.
The gambit worked and all is forgiven … the load management gods don’t seem fazed by Brooklyn’s actions Thursday night. The Nets end up splitting Milwaukee-Minnesota back-to-back to remain tied with New York Knicks in the loss column for the five seeds in the Eastern Conference. (That’s two defeats behind Cleveland Cavaliers for the four-seed.) Not a bad change through the central time zone for Brooklyn, which responded to a four-game losing streak after the All-Star break by going 4-1 in its last five games.
- Royce O’Neale benefited from the Nets being forced to go small, thanks to Nic Claxton’s six foul shots. He tied his career high in rebounds with 15. Those 15 boards were also good enough for O’Neale’s second straight double-double, the first of his career.
- Speaking of Nic Claxton, while he recorded six foul shots, he also recorded four blocked shots, good for moving back into a tie with Brook Lopez for the league lead in blocked shots (161).
- Random but true: The Nets have outscored their opponent by double digits in the third quarter 11 times this season, including against Minnesota. Nine of those 11 third quarters came on the road.
- It marked the Nets’ first overtime win of the year in just their second overtime appearance. Do you remember the first one? Take a moment…it was Brooklyn’s horrible loss to the Dallas Mavericks on October 27th. Remember that? I hope not.
Getting a day off
Six players who played a big role in Brooklyn’s failed comeback against the Bucks on Thursday received DNPs 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 against the Bucks, played only five minutes against the T’Wolves and scored one point.
Yuta Watanabe welcomes a big (albeit small) fan
As Spongebob would say
The Nets have Saturday off, and then they play Denver Nuggets in a Sunday matinee beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET
For a different, possibly sadder take on Brooklyn’s win over Minnesota, visit our sister site Hoopoe the dog.