What was Brook Lopez’s reward for tipping in last night’s game-winner against Denver? A day off. About an hour before the Nets’ final stop on their circus trip, interim head coach Tony Brown announced that Lopez and Thaddeus Young would get some well-deserved rest before heading back home. Up until this point, the duo had started all 62 games together and the Nets are still just 18-44. So, if you were looking for the ultimately brief, digestible recap, here it is:
Valiant effort by Brooklyn, but without their big veterans, the kids come up short.
OK, you’re still reading? In for the long haul? You can’t say I didn’t warm you.
Bless Willie Reed for being the sacrificial lamb thrown into Karl-Anthony Towns’ cage, but without Lopez, the Minnesota Timberwolves had a very vulnerable area to attack. Although that’s not to say that Donald Sloan on Ricky Rubio, Wayne Ellington on Zach LaVine, and Bojan Bogdanovic on Andrew Wiggins aren’t mismatches either, but Towns, the already run-away winner for Rookie of the Year, was built to annihilate competitors in situations like this.
(Another spoiler alert: He did — finishing with 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 14-18 shooting!)
Aside from from a few early Bogdanovic buckets and a Markel Brown buzzer-beater to end to the first quarter, this was an absolute highlight reel for the young Timberwolves side. You want dunks? Cue the back-to-back Slam Dunk Champion shooting the lane for easy opportunities. You want blocks? See Towns, who stuffed Bogdanovic just as Minnesota started to pull away, igniting another one of their many free and easy fastbreaks. You need a team to provide all these situations and a slew of bad passes? Sign the Nets up because without Lopez and Young, they’re just practice dummies, even against a team that has won just 5 more games than them.
Any of that good will earned during the three-point barrage in Denver quickly melted away as the Nets allowed Minnesota to shoot 68% from the field and pile up a 17-point lead at the half. However, it’s not all gloom and doom — because if you’ve read this far into the recap, you obviously had something, anything, to do this Saturday night and didn’t have to watch this as it aired. Other than that, Thomas Robinson and Reed secured 9 and 7 rebounds, respectively, in the first half but that happens when you’re the only healthy bigs on the roster other than a raw rookie.
Reed added 10 points and 3 blocks to be, above and beyond without reason, Brooklyn’s best player over the first 24 minutes. If it feels like I’ve talked mostly about the Timberwolves thus far, that’s because it’s true — how could one have expected this Nets team to stay within breathing range? The Nets only average 97.4 PPG, second-worst in the NBA — and of that total, Lopez and Young account for 35 of them. Who could possibly step up in their absence? Not many people would’ve put money on Kilpatrick and Reed before tip-off and I’m not sure if that’s a good sign either.
And yet, perhaps my favorite new phrase in my Nets lexicon, there they were, pouring in a 12-3 fourth quarter run to cut the affair to just single-digits with 8 minutes left. Lead by The Robinson Rebound Show and a new career-high in points for Kilpatrick, the Nets hung around for no reason whatsoever against the Timberwolves’ second unit. However, once the Nets got it to 8 on a Larkin three-pointer, Minnesota subbed their starters back in and immediately pushed it back to 14+.
At the end of the day, these are a lot of words about a team I just gave an overall Incomplete grade to but that seems only fair. Remember my wise, sage words from earlier? Valiant effort by Brooklyn, but without their big veterans, the kids come up short. Honestly, even getting it down to single digits was a miracle, but without Lopez and Young, it seems too harsh to grade them fully without that important context.