The Wolves entered the Pepsi Center Wednesday night following a game where they inched out a healthy Blazers team in a crucial divisional win. Tonight marked another important matchup with a Northwest Division rival in the Denver Nuggets, a team that has experienced a string of intermittent injuries to star players and role players alike so far this season.
The Nuggets are known for their well-rounded roster and the depth of their bench, but with Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay all out with injuries, the Wolves came into tonight with a good opportunity to sneak away with a win in the Mile High City.
Starting out the game, the Nuggets caught Minnesota sleeping by quickly converting on three consecutive threes, while the Wolves struggled to find a rhythm on offense. But the Wolves snuck back within striking distance midway through the second quarter thanks to a few careless turnovers by Denver.
The Wolves entered tonight sixth in the NBA in points off turnovers while the Nuggets give up the most turnover points in the league. All told, this rang true in tonight’s matchup with the Wolves scoring 21 points off of Denver’s 21 turnovers, but Denver kept control of most of the game thanks to some solid shooting and cohesive ball movement.
While the Wolves forced 21 turnovers, they only committed eight of their own, which is a consistent ratio we’ve seen so far this season. That’s turned out to be one of the positive themes for this team this year, but that advantage leveled off for much of tonight’s game with the Nuggets shooting a collective 46 percent from deep compared to the Wolves’ 33 percent.
To close out the first half, the Wolves and Nuggets traded back-and-forth baskets to settle on a two-point Nuggets advantage heading into halftime, despite the Wolves looking like they were sucking air up and down the court for much of the second quarter.
The beginning of the second half saw more hot shooting from Denver, with their threes adding up and building on the Wolves’ deficit, which grew to as much as 14. Denver kept attacking throughout the third quarter, primarily through the craftiness of Nikola Jokic and the aggressiveness of Jamal Murray, who finished with 30 points and caused an array of problems for the Wolves with his three-point shooting (he finished 5-6) and his slashing.
Despite the Nuggets’ continued success on offense, however, the Wolves somehow found themselves down by just four heading into the final quarter. And they quickly erased that lead right away in the fourth thanks to a few stops on defense and some feisty offense from Karl-Anthony Towns who really came alive late in the game. KAT occasionally plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder when going up against some of his younger peers like Jokic, which has been known to either motivate him or get in his head. Thankfully for the Wolves it was the former tonight.
Midway through the fourth, the Wolves again started giving the ball to Jamal Crawford -- and why not? He had himself a night the previous game against the Blazers and his shots were falling again tonight (he finished with 20 points and seven assists). The Wolves also kept getting the ball in Jimmy Butler’s hands, which, as we’ve seen lately, is as good as it gets for Minnesota. I think it’s safe to say Thibs has found his go-to guys for late-game situations.
And it’s paid off. Jimmy and Jamal hit some big shots down the stretch, the biggest of which came when Butler hit a dagger of a three with 41 seconds to play in the game (seriously, how good is this guy?). That ended up being the final nail in the coffin as the Wolves pulled away with a clutch come-from-behind division victory.
- Toward the end of the half, the Wolves got frisky and went with one of those intriguing small-ball lineups we’ve been so eager to see (Teague, Crawford, Wiggins, Butler and Towns). It was exciting to see for however brief it was, although it didn’t yield anything significant. Nevertheless, I’d like to see more of that lineup mixing from Thibs in the future.
- For how much credit Nikola Jokic gets for his passing, the Nuggets as a whole really are great at moving the ball as a team. There are definitely some Spursian similarities there in terms of how they move the ball in the half court set.
- Andrew Wiggins, who has struggled as of late, seemed to bounce back early in the first half in this one but ended up having another quiet scoring night, finishing with just seven points. One of my biggest gripes with him continues to be the fact that he shoots so many damn shots one dribble inside the three-point line. He did it a few times again tonight even when his rhythm dribble started out a few feet behind the line. It’s become a consistently bad habit of his to shoot one of the most inefficient shots in the game so frequently.
- As I mentioned, KAT was fiery all night, chirping on the court and flexing after buckets. In his post-game interview with Marney Gellner he mentioned a “back story” behind this matchup as a source of motivation. Hmm....