Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mike Conley (illness) returned to the lineup for the second night of a back-to-back set, and the Wolves staved off a spirited Brooklyn Nets comeback attempt to come out with a needed 96-94 victory on the road at Barclays Center.
While it is a skill to figure out a way to win in this league, this game left a lot to be desired. The Timberwolves’ fourth quarter offense was spotty at best (they went from the 7:14 mark to the 2:03 mark without a field goal) and a lot of isolation basketball — particularly from Anthony Edwards, who at one point missed 10 consecutive shots in the second half — led to a nail-biter. A road win in the NBA is never easy, but the Wolves found a way.
The Nets got off to a hot start by taking a 17-9 lead in the first six minutes of the game while shooting 7/12 from the field. Before the first timeout, the Wolves were able to bring it back with a quick 7-0 run, fueled five points from Edwards, to cut the deficit to one.
Jaden McDaniels cutting dunk, assisted by Mike Conley pic.twitter.com/ALqtHFva3A— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 26, 2024
Weathering the Brooklyn flurry at the start, Minnesota got punched, but threw one right back. More turnover issues for the Wolves (four in the frame) and the Nets shooting 55% from the field resulted to a 31-24 lead for Brooklyn after 12 minutes. The Nets got eight points on 4/4 from the field for Nic Claxton, while Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns scored seven apiece for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves opened the second quarter on fire with a quick 9-0 run from the bench unit (plus Towns) to take a two-point lead behind some strong ball movement generated by a Jordan McLaughlin and Nickeil Alexander-Walker back-court.
5 players scored at least 5 points in the 2Q:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) January 26, 2024
• KAT -> 8 PTS on 4/4 FG, 1 AST
• Ant -> 7 PTS on 2/3 FG, 2 AST
• Jaden -> 5 PTS on 2/2 FG, 1 AST
• Naz -> 5 PTS on 2/5 FG, 2 AST
• Mike -> 5 PTS on 1/3 FG
Wolves assisted on 11 of their 14 FGM w/ just 1 TO
After Minnesota came out of the gates strong, Brooklyn pulled back at 40 all with 5:32 left in the quarter. That is where the defense picked up. Multiple stops lead to some free buckets for the Wolves and they went on a 9-0 run over the next two minutes to seize control of the game. Conley’s corner 3-pointer just before the buzzer closed out a great second quarter, after which Minnesota led 60-48.
The Wolves started the third by running their offense through KAT and Ant. Edwards started off hot as he scored eight in the first five minutes to increase the lead slightly to 15 with seven minutes to go in the period.
Anthony Edwards PnR pull-up fadeaway jumper off glass, wow pic.twitter.com/WiOn82lFho— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 26, 2024
Brooklyn then went on an 8-2 run as Spencer Dinwiddie hits some tough shots to cut the lead to nine with 4:29 left in the quarter. Lots of isolation ball let the Nets crawl back to make it closer as they headed towards the fourth. Edwards missed eight straight shots to close the third quarter but the Wolves were still able to maintain their lead at seven points, 81-74.
Towns scored the first five points of the quarter to bring the Wolves lead back to 12 points, which they ended up needing badly in the ensuing minutes. While the Minnesota offense sputtered as the quarter went along, the defense remained elite. But the Wolves had twice as many turnovers as made field goals halfway through the frame, which kept Brooklyn in it. The Nets trailed 91-84 with 5:32 remaining. Minnesota continued to play isolation basketball and slowly but surely Brooklyn grabbed momentum and were able to cut the game to one possession a couple of times. They even tied the game with just over a minute to play, before Towns threw a cash money pass to Gobert that ended up being the game-winning bucket.
With the Wolves leading 96-94, Edwards showed up on the defensive end after playing poor defense for pretty much the entire night and delivering a second half to forget offensively.
Jaden McDaniels clapping and cheering Anthony Edwards on DURING this possession was simply fantastic. pic.twitter.com/Cd3qI6Js3c— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) January 26, 2024
And then, with seven seconds left, Mikal Bridges was fouled by Jaden McDaniels, but missed both free throws (the second on purpose, with a Brooklyn lane violation on it, too). The Timberwolves inbounded the ball and the Nets were unable to foul as the clock hit triple zeroes, so Minnesota held on 96-94.
KAT’s Efficient Night
This game was the definition of “a win is a win.” But, within that indifference, you have to give the big man his flowers.
KAT shot 12/15 from the floor and had a phenomenal 27-point, 10-rebound double-double, continuing his stretch of very strong play over the last 10 games. His shot selection was great and for the most part he played within his sweet spots. Brooklyn was not bringing nearly enough double teams to Towns on the block in this game, and Towns responded by making nine of his 11 shots in the paint. Dorian Finney-Smith was no match for the nine-year vet, as KAT would methodically back him down until he got the exact shot (or playmaking opportunity) he wanted.
that’s an automatic bucket. pic.twitter.com/rKwhw2Sv8y— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 26, 2024
If I were to nitpick his game slightly, it would only be the fact that he only shot three 3-pointers. He shot 2/3 from downtown, but I am always clamoring for more shots from beyond the arc from the 7-footer. KAT is shooting a career-high 43.9% from deep this season, and while his driving game was working in this matchup, they still need him to spread the floor on offense.
Second Quarter Driving the Win
After a first quarter that fell short of expectations, the Wolves trailed 31-24. They allowed the Nets to get whatever they wanted on offense and did not shoot the ball at a high clip, which caused them to fall down early. The second quarter was a completely different story. They started the quarter on a 9-0 run to take the lead and put their pedal to the metal after that point. With suffocating defense that lead to transition offense, Minnesota increased their lead and went into the break up by 12 points.
They outscored the Nets 36-17 in the quarter. The +19 differential in the frame was a season high for this squad. Continuing this dominance in the middle quarters breaks opposing teams’ spirits and allows the Wolves to play the majority of the game with a lead. That is huge in the grand scheme of things and does a lot to help them play at their pace for the majority of the game.
Even with this great second quarter, the game started to slowly slip away after this point. Edwards missed eight straight shots in the third quarter, which gave the Nets some hope and that continued in the fourth. While they defended extremely well for the entirety of the fourth, down the stretch the offense was ugly. Edwards was taking way too many isolation jump shots which lead to a lowly 15 points in the final quarter (Towns scored 10 of them). The one time that the Wolves ran a play that gave them a good look they scored (video below). That team dynamic needs to be stressed. Playing as a team is the best way to run clutch offense and that needs to be the focus point if Minnesota wants to solve these recent late game woes.
My remedy is to give the ball to Mike Conley more in these moments. He always knows where to go with the ball and will make sure that they have multiple actions on a possession to get a good look. And if all else fails they can always run the Conley-Gobert pick and roll.
Rudy Gobert clutch lob dunk, assisted by Karl-Anthony Towns pic.twitter.com/tthfyhZeJ1— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 26, 2024
The Timberwolves will travel to the Alamo City for a matchup with Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs at 7:30 PM CT on Saturday night, before a road battle for the No. 1 seed in the fourth and final matchup of the regular season with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. Fans can catch Saturday’s matchup on Bally Sports North Extra.