MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time since Kyrie Irving was injured and has missed the last 21 games, the Nets fell into a three-game losing streak with a 122-115 overtime loss to the short-handed Timberwolves Monday night at Target Center. It felt like a “must-win” situation for the Nets, and they failed to deliver while dropping to 16-16 for the season.
A trio of threes early in the fourth quarter by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot allowed the Nets to equal their biggest lead of the game at 89-80 with 9:16 left to play. That made it a 14-6 run by the second unit spanning the third and fourth quarters, the second straight game they were successful in that spot.
But the Nets let it all slip away. “It was an unacceptable performance by us,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We were lucky to get to overtime quite honestly. Even at halftime, I felt like we were not playing at a high level, not playing up to Nets standards.”
By the time Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris rejoined the action with 8:00 to play, that margin was down to two points after a 7-0 Timberwolves surge. The Wolves tied it when former Net Shabazz Napier stripped Dinwiddie on the inbounds play and fed Josh Okogie for a tying layup.
The Nets regained a 101-96 lead, but the T-Wolves responded with seven straight points, including a corner three by Gorgui Dieng for a 103-101 lead with 36.3 seconds left. That spurt began with an air ball that Dieng saved from going out of bounds as the Nets' DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince looked on. That led to two foul shots by Jarrett Culver that started the closing rally in regulation.
“That speaks for itself.,” Atkinson said. “It looks like confusion when you watch it on film. That’s kind of a microcosm of the game really. There were a lot of those plays. After the [holiday] break, we haven’t played well at all.”
Taurean Prince tied it with a short jumper in the lane with 29 seconds showing, and then Napier missed a jumper before the buzzer to send the game to overtime. The game was tied twice in OT, but the T-Wolves finished the game on an 15-8 run, including three-pointers by Robert Covington, Kelan Martin and Napier to pull away. The Timberwolves scored on nine of their final 11 possessions.
“In the overtime, we didn’t defend well enough,” Dinwiddie said. “We could have made a play here or there to win in regulation, but we did our job decently. They only had 103 points. But them scoring  points in OT in only a five-minute stretch is not near good enough.”
Dinwiddie led the Nets with 36 points and eight assists but struggled through a 12-for-31 shooting night, Harris added 19 points, and Prince had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Napier paced the Timberwolves (12-20) with 24 points and eight assists, and Culver added 21 points. Dieng had 11 points with 20 rebounds.
After being held to less than 100 points in their previous two losses, it’s clear the Nets have fallen into an offensive funk. But facing a Timberwolves team playing without injured Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, they figured to have a chance to get back on track, especially since the home team had so little rim protection.
When the Nets built their nine-point fourth-quarter lead, it looked like they might record another bounceback win, but it didn’t happen and now they head to Dallas for the finale of a three-game trip.
“It happens in the NBA,” Atkinson said. “These are times when you really reflect on who you want to be as a team. We’re not where we want to be. Lot of room for improvement.”