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Kyrie Irving’s return just enough for Nets to escape Timberwolves

Wins may be better than the alternative. But the Nets are scuffling their way to victories, and know they’ll have to do — and be — better.

Kyrie Irving’s return from a family leave and yet another James Harden triple-double helped Brooklyn to a 112-107 escape against Minnesota before a crowd 1,732 at Barclays Center on Monday night. But this game was all kinds of ugly.

“Anytime an opposing team comes in here or we’re on the road, we feel like we’re gonna get their best shot despite their record,” Irving said. “Just feel like we couldn’t get control of the pace of the game. They were crashing the offensive glass, doing little things which kept them in the game. So a few mistakes on our end that we can clean up.”

James Harden had 38 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, while Irving — who had missed the past three games — scored 27.

Brooklyn saw a 108-98 cushion with 1:55 left disappear, allowing a 9-0 run. But the Nets got the defensive stand they needed in forcing a miss from Anthony Edwards, and Bruce Brown chased down a key defensive rebound with 16 seconds to play.

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving returning to the Nets lineup during a win over Minnesota on Monday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Harden sank two free throws on the other end, then — opting not to give a foul, as the Nets had planned — he helped force a miss from Malik Beasley on a potential tying 3 with 10 seconds left. Irving iced it with two more at the stripe for the final margin.

The Nets — branded the big villains of the NBA for the recent additions of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge — barely escaped the 11-36 Timberwolves.

“It’s just maybe our lack of focus, looking record-wise at a team we’re playing and then not staying focused like we were playing a better record-wise team,” Harden said. “Not fundamentally boxing out, just small things. Not communicating or consistently communicating.

“It’s just small things that we can correct and we will correct. I just think we’re looking at these teams we’re playing [thinking], ‘All right, we might get away with it.’ But we’ve got to think bigger picture and try to be more consistent in our communication and in our principles and our fundamentals.”

That bigger picture is a title, but they hardly looked like a championship squad.

The Nets (32-15) pulled within half a game of Philadelphia for first place in the East, and moved two clear of Milwaukee pending the Bucks’ late game Monday in Los Angeles against the Clippers. And they’re painted as the Darth Vader of the league for adding two former All-Stars to their Big Three. But nights like this show you can’t take anything for granted.

Brooklyn threw double-teams at Karl-Anthony Towns, but he still scored 31 points. But the Nets managed to survive and improve to an NBA-best 18-3 since Feb. 10, all with Kevin Durant playing just one game and Irving missing six.

This was a game that had seemed well in hand, and got closer than it needed to be.

Irving scored 15 in the first quarter, and the Nets led 44-27 when Harden found Jeff Green (10 points, four boards) for a 3 early in the second quarter.

After the break, the Nets had an air of a complacency, and let the game get far tighter than it should’ve been.

It was 78-74 before Irving hit a 20-foot pull-up during a 12-3 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters. Harden’s stepback 3 gave Brooklyn a 90-77 edge.

The Nets led 108-98 after an Irving pull-up with 2:07 to play, but surrendered nine unanswered points. They never coughed up the lead, though.

“A team like that that hasn’t won a lot of games playing against a team that’s towards the top of the conference, once they get a sniff that they’re still in this thing late … you’re hanging on for dear life,” coach Steve Nash said.

“Not a great performance. A win is a win. We found a way to win it in the end. But we’ve got a lot to improve. We’ve just had a pretty poor patch recently with our play, and not at our best. … We’re going through a tough patch — our opportunity right now is try to fight out of it.”

nypost.com

New York Post

The New York Post is a daily tabloid newspaper in New York City. The Post also operates NYPost.com, the celebrity gossip site PageSix.com and the entertainment site Decider.com.

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