James Harden had a spate of fourth-quarter turnovers that almost ruined a great night, but he completed his 12th triple-double performance since joining the Nets to lead them to a 112-107 victory over the Timberwolves on Monday night at Barclays Center.
Harden totaled 38 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in 40:21. His effort tied a franchise season record set by Jason Kidd and helped the Nets (32-15) to their 18th win in the past 21 games.
Asked to compare Harden and Kidd, Nets coach Steve Nash said, "They’re much different players. James is much more of a scorer than Jason was. Jason was kind of an all-court player. He defended and was a pass-first guard. So different, but both dominate.
"It’s impressive for James in such a short time to rack up so many triple-doubles. He’s our leader and he’s meant a lot to us. Another triple-double. We can’t take it for granted, but we tend to a little bit because he is able to pull these out of a hat at any given moment."
Kyrie Irving added 27 points. He returned from a three-game absence to tend to family matters and didn’t miss a beat, scoring 15 points in the opening quarter.
After leading by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, the Nets continued to play solid defense, but their usually prolific offense faltered and they let the Timberwolves (11-36) climb back within four points during the third quarter. The Nets again played down to the level of an inferior opponent.
"I thought the offense slumped basically the last three quarters," Nash said. "We didn’t play well, we weren’t sharp. We didn’t make them adjust to different looks and options and kind of diversify what we were doing. We’re going through a tough patch. Our opportunity right now is to fight out of it, try to clean some things up and improve . . . We’re not playing great, but we found a way to win. That’s the positive. The negative is we’re not pleased with the performance, and that gives us motivation to improve."
The Nets took a 10-point lead to the fourth quarter, but seven straight Timberwolves points from Karl-Anthony Towns cut that deficit to 98-92 with 6:28 to play. But as he has done so often this season, Harden kicked his offensive game into high gear when the Nets needed it most, scoring eight of 10 Nets points in one span, including a three-pointer for a 106-96 cushion.
However, three turnovers by Harden and one by Bruce Brown fueled an 11-2 spurt by the Timberwolves that cut their deficit to 108-107 with 58.6 seconds left. The Nets needed a stop, and they got it when Anthony Edwards missed in the paint and Brown scrambled for the rebound.
Harden was fouled with 14 seconds to go and made both. The Timberwolves had a chance to tie with 14 seconds left, but Malik Beasley missed the shot.
Harden faulted himself for the critical turnovers.
"I’ve got to be better at my decision-making," he said. "Just giving them opportunities down the stretch. If we get a shot attempt [instead of a turnover], we get a chance to push the lead up and we’re not fighting through that. We’ve just got to get better individually and as a team."
Towns topped the Timberwolves with 31 points and 12 rebounds and Edwards added 23 points and 10 rebounds. The Nets held the Timberwolves to 39.2% shooting.
"We feel like we’re going to get their best shot despite their record," Irving said. "These games are coming quick, so we’ll take the win and see what we can learn."