Gorgui Dieng making an improbable save that turned into a pair of free throws for Jarrett Culver. Kelan Martin drilling a three in overtime while Shabazz Napier hit a pair of shots, and Naz Reid, who was in Iowa as late as 3 p.m. Monday in advance of a 7 p.m. tipoff, ended up playing a big role in his first significant NBA minutes.
With Noah Vonleh and Treveon Graham joining the list of injured or sick Timberwolves, the split-squad Wolves were going to have to scratch and claw their way against a similarly ravaged Brooklyn team. They couldn’t do it Saturday against Cleveland, but on Monday they came away with a 122-115 victory over the Nets and ended a nine-game home losing streak which dated back to Nov. 15.
“I thought that was a heart game,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “Our guys knew there were going to be opportunities tonight, and guys took advantage of them. There were a number of things that you could point to that have to make you feel good within our organization.”
With Vonleh (left gluteal contusion) and Treveon Graham (flulike symptoms) joining Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jake Layman on the unable to participate list, it turned into development night at Target Center, with the Wolves giving a lot of run to some of their youngest, most raw talents.
But they wouldn’t have won without contributions from their most veteran player in Dieng, who had 11 points and 20 rebounds in addition to the save that ended up in two significant points as the Wolves overcame what was a 101-96 Nets lead with 1:25 remaining.
“He made winning plays,” Saunders said. “That one save, that was, I don’t know how he got to it, but we don’t go to overtime without that.”
Even Dieng wasn’t sure how he got it.
“I don’t know,” Dieng said. “I just jumped.”
Napier led six Wolves scorers in double figures with 24. Spencer Dinwiddie led the Kyrie Irving-less Nets with 36.
“We know if we don’t have our main scorers who don’t play, we need effort from everybody and do whatever it takes to win,” Dieng said.
The Wolves have been trying to do whatever it takes; they just haven’t been winning of late. But they have won two of their past three after dropping 11 in a row. This effort mirrored their previous victory against Sacramento, except there were a few less bricks laid by both teams.
The Wolves executed down the stretch, with Dieng hitting a clutch three to put them ahead 103-101 with 36.9 seconds remaining. Taurean Prince scored to tie things up and eventually send it to overtime.
The Wolves took control with the score tied 107-107. Robert Covington hit a three, then after Brooklyn cut the lead to one, Martin added another three. Then Napier hit a stepback three, making for a relatively drama-free final minute.
There was drama even before the game. With Vonleh and Graham late scratches, the Wolves didn’t call Reid until the afternoon and he boarded a flight as fast as he could and made it despite the inclement weather. He played the first significant minutes of his NBA career and scored 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting. Multiple times, fans perked up whenever Reid entered the game or did something positive.
“No matter what shot I took, what I did defensively, my teammates were always there for me,” Reid said. “Coaches were always there for me. The fans were always there. It felt great.”
Just as the Wolves felt great to get a win on a night they were down five main contributors from the last time these two teams played on opening night.
“Going into our facility … you didn’t sense a team that was on a losing streak,” Saunders said. “You sensed a team that believed in each other, believed in what you’re doing.”