They are all losses, and losses count the same, but Minnesota’s defeat Monday in Brooklyn had to be far easier for Timberwolves’ fans to stomach.
Fresh off two debacles against the lowly Rockets — one of which the Wolves somehow won — Minnesota went East to take on James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
And they nearly came away victorious.
Instead, Minnesota fell 112-107 after failing to get a couple late shots to fall.
Brooklyn threw the first punch Monday, and it was a haymaker. The Nets led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter.
But Minnesota never went away, all the way to the finish. Irving hit a shot with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left to put Brooklyn up 10 and seemingly ice the contest. But the Wolves had one last push.
Karl-Anthony Towns hit a triple. Then Jaden McDaniels scored a bucket. Then Anthony Edwards — who’s sat on the pine a couple times recently in closing time — had a 14 second span in which he scored a layup, got a steal and finished again at the rim to cut the Wolves’ deficit to one.
That’s all the closer Minnesota would get, as Edwards and Beasley missed shots in the final minute and Harden and Irving knocked down free-throws to ice the game. But that the Wolves remained in the game to the finish showed an added competitive that’d been missing in recent contests. That, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said, was the team’s No. 1 goal heading into the night. They wanted to be more competitive in the battle.
Karl-Anthony Towns said Minnesota stopped trying to be cool and started trying to win.
“We competed and we played with that toughness to be in the game,” and we played with desperation,” Towns said. “I thought we played a really good game all around.”
When Minnesota rallied to beat Houston on Friday after 42 minutes of lackluster basketball, Towns said the Wolves didn’t deserve to win. He felt the opposite Monday.
“These are one of the nights we deserved it,” Towns said. “Obviously in basketball there has to be a winner and a loser. They hit more shots than us when they needed to, and they won the game. But I’m proud of us for playing the way we played tonight.”
The Wolves stayed in the game throughout on the back of their defense, of all things. Minnesota shot just 38 percent, missing a number of good looks, while also committing 15 turnovers. Usually, those numbers will get you run out of the gym.
But they defended. McDaniels continued his impressive work defending some of the games best wings. Brooklyn (32-15) shot just 47 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep.
Generally, Minnesota allows poor offense to lead to poor defense. Not Monday.
“Before we talked about compound mistakes. That’s where games get away from us, whether it be a turnover and we don’t sprint back, then we come back and take a bad shot and then we foul a 3-point shooter or whatever it might be, that’s the things that have snowballed on us,” Finch said. “Tonight, we missed a lot of layups, the highly makeable shots in the first half. If we make those it’s probably a tighter game at halftime for sure. But we kept guarding and kept staying in it. When they pushed the lead out to double-digits, we came right back on them. That’s how we need to be every night.”
That’s the key — to make that effort an every-night occurrence.
“The reality is that has to be our standard,” Finch said. “In this league, that’s the only way you can survive.”
Harden did record a triple-double, notching 38 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. Irving had 27 points. But no other Nets player scored more than 10.
Towns led the way for Minnesota (11-36) with 31 points and 12 boards, while Edwards, too, had a double-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.