NEW YORK — When all else fails, get the ball to Kevin Durant.
All else had indeed failed through the first three-and-a-half quarters of the Nets’ 110-105 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. The Wolves, a middling Western Conference opponent without All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns, managed to stifle the Nets’ offense early into the game. The Nets were on the verge of their most disappointing loss of the season: The other six losses came against championship contenders, plus a young, fun and suddenly formidable Charlotte Hornets team.
When the going got tough, however, the Nets got the ball to their cash cow: Durant, an all-world scorer with championship pedigree both in the NBA Finals and the Olympics. Durant scored on three straight mid-range jump shots midway through the fourth quarter. His personal 6-0 Nets run gave life to an otherwise dull Nets team looking to defeat another opponent it should have taken care of decisively.
Durant finished with 30 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field. He missed his only 3-point attempt on the night and shot 12 of 13 from the foul line. He also hit the game-sealing shot with less than 12 seconds to go: an isolation possession where he shook a Timberwolves defender, pump-faked from the mid-range then elevated to give the Nets a five-point lead.
After a masterpiece of a performance in the Nets’ win against the Knicks, James Harden shot just 4 of 11 from the field and shot 0 of 5 from downtown, though with the benefit of the officials’ whistle, he shot 12 of 15 from the foul line.
Towns wasn’t the only player absent on Friday. Kyrie Irving continues to miss time due to his unvaccinated status in a city with a vaccine mandate, and Joe Harris is out four to eight weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a bone particle from his left ankle.
Still, no Towns should have made the Wolves an easy opponent. Revenge, however, is never an easy task to handle: Ex-Net Taurean Prince scored 11 points and hit two timely and unlikely 3s, and D’Angelo Russell scored 21 points (albeit on 22 shot attempts) to go with 11 assists.
Russell missed an uncontested point-blank layup with less than eight seconds to go in the fourth quarter, a look that would have made it a one-possession game. So much for friendly rims in a familiar arena.
In his first game back from an undisclosed illness, Nic Claxton logged just three minutes and made a minimal impact on the floor. Claxton played in his first game since Oct. 25. He missed 17 straight games dealing with the illness, then ramping up his level of conditioning to play in an NBA game.
Patty Mills added 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor and hit a flurry of 3s that helped keep the Nets afloat.
Friday night’s result was the clearest example of the Nets playing down to their competition. They have thoroughly handled lesser opponents so far this season, but nearly lost to a Wolves team without its best player merely by virtue of a lack of energy — or even a lack of respect for their opponent.
Barclays Center was lifeless much of the game but erupted as Durant put on his do-it-yourself kit late in the fourth quarter. It’s going to take more than just one superstar player giving a superstar effort if the Nets are going to realize their championship dreams, but Friday night, one player’s effort down the stretch was just enough.