NEW YORK – Once upon a time this season, the Timberwolves had a functioning late-game offense. They didn't rediscover it in Thursday's matchup against Brooklyn, but try though they might with eight fourth-quarter turnovers and questionable shot selection when they didn't give up the ball, the Wolves still couldn't lose to the Nets in a 96-94 victory, their second win in as many nights.
Credit their defense, which stepped up most of the night in ways not recently seen. The Wolves (32-13), who were up by as much as 17 in the second half, held the Nets (17-27) to only 41% shooting after the first quarter and came up with enough stops late when they were stopping themselves on offense.
"First of all, good win, gutsy win," coach Chris Finch said. "Our defense was phenomenal. It was good to see that back all game long, really. I thought for most of the game, we played really well offensively, but this is our fourth quarters of late, we just turn it over at a high volume. … Then when you put some iffy shot selection on top of it, that's why things are snowballing against us. We've got to fix that or we're not going to be able to take the next step as a team."
The Wolves have a putrid offensive efficiency of 80.3 in clutch situations in January. They are 2-5 in those games. Before that, their offensive efficiency in the clutch situations — which the NBA defines as games in the final five minutes and within five points — was fourth (126.1), and they were 11-1 in those games. Not even the return of Mike Conley (10 points, four assists) from rest/hamstring tightness on Monday and an illness Wednesday could help them.
Anthony Edwards had 24 points but had two head-scratching possessions late when he dribbled the shot clock down late and fired up contested, long-range shots that both missed. Karl-Anthony Towns provided just enough offense in the final minutes, as he scored a layup to put the Wolves up four with 2 minutes, 4 seconds to play, then found Rudy Gobert on a lob for a dunk, which turned out to the winning bucket, with 58.1 seconds left. That came after Towns (a game-high 27 points on 12-for-15 shooting from the field) and Gobert had missed on a potential lob a few minutes earlier. There was never any doubt they were going back to it.
"If there's one thing I know from being here nine years is there's a superpower that is activated when you feel belief. And the belief I have in Rudy is up there with anybody on this team," Towns said. "I feel that's a superpower, something I think that has never been activated for him because it feels that everyone looks at him as just a defensive player and not someone who can affect the game offensively."
Gobert did plenty on defense, too, as did Jaden McDaniels, who limited Brooklyn's Mikal Bridges to 8-for-18 shooting from the field (21 points). But Bridges had a chance to tie the score at the foul line with 2.4 seconds to play after McDaniels fouled him. McDaniels wasn't worried though.
"I knew he was going to miss," McDaniels said. "I just knew he was."
Why was he so confident?
"I just knew he didn't want to win the game and it would be my fault we lost," he said. "I knew he wasn't going to do that to me."
It would not have been McDaniels' fault they lost, even if they had. They could point all their fingers (the way the bench does now when they dunk on an opponent) at their fourth-quarter offense.
"We have to find ways to stay in our actions, stay moving our bodies, keep pace in our offense and not rely on the iso, hero-ball style of play because it funnels us into turnovers," Conley said. "And that's what we did and they were able to come back."
Just not all the way, this time.