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Nuggets 100, Wolves 96: Rocky Performance

The roller coaster 2017-2018 season continues.

Another massive game, another disappointing outcome.

In what is becoming a late-season theme, the Minnesota Timberwolves failed yet again to close out their biggest game of the 2017-2018 season, falling to the Denver Nuggets 100-96 on Thursday night in the Pepsi Center.

The Wolves were paced early on by Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished the game with 26 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and one highly questionable call late in the game that resulted in an abrupt end to Towns’ night:

On a night that had all the makings of a playoff contest, the officiating (on both ends) resembled that of an early game in November. While the whistle was sporadic and inconsistent for 48 minutes, the Wolves front court never stopped battling, with Taj Gibson (17 points and 14 rebounds) yet again turning back the clock with infinite amounts of energy, intensity, and defensive prowess.

The Nuggets countered with their own tenacious front court, led by Nikola Jokic (16 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists) and prized free agent signing Paul Millsap (12 points and 7 rebounds). Along with Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets front court trio provided enough physicality and rim protection throughout the game to deter the Wolves just enough to secure their 44th victory of the season.

In a game that mirrored a rock fight for most of the evening, it was the performance of Devin Harris (yes, DEVIN BLEEPING HARRIS) that seemingly swung the momentum (and ultimately the result) in favor of the Nuggets. Harris, playing for his fifth team in 14 seasons, poured in 20 points off the bench, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, despite being a 32.3% career shooter from three. Unfortunately for the Wolves, the performance was extremely rare:

The Wolves came into the night relatively healthy, with Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose all active (although Jimmy Butler did not end up playing). Neither Teague (15 points, 6 rebounds, 0-of-5 from three) nor Rose (4 points) played all that well, but both looked much more competent on the floor than Tyus Jones, who finished the contest with 0 points in 12 minutes (including two huge, wide-open misses from three during a crucial stretch of the third quarter).

Speaking of terrible performances... Andrew Wiggins. In their biggest game of the season with the national TV lights shining bright, “Maple Jordan” was nowhere to be found, tallying only 9 points on 4-of-12 shooting while only attempting one FT. With his team fighting for their playoff lives, Wiggins epically failed to seize the moment:

Even as someone who still owns property on Wiggins Island, this is flat out absurd from a future max player. Wiggins played only 33 minutes on Thursday, his second lowest total since February 1st. Not scoring is one thing, but failing to even shoot the ball is a downright travesty. While a LOT of heat has been directed at Tom Thibodeau this season (and rightfully so), the Wolves head coach had no choice but to leave Wiggins on the bench for most of the fourth quarter in hopes that Rose or Crawford could do what Andrew couldn't - make plays (narrator voice: “they didn't”).

So where do we go from here? Well...

With only three games left (at the Lakers and then home for the Grizzlies and Nuggets), the Wolves will likely need to finish 2-1 or better to secure a trip to the playoffs for the first time in thirteen years. While I would never tell you how to clap, I would strongly urge that you tune in for the final six nights of the NBA regular season, as it’s going to be a wild, wild ride.

Other Game Notes

  • Karl-Anthony Towns became the first player in NBA history with 5,000+ points, 2,500+ rebounds, & 250 3-pointers in his 1st 3 seasons (h/t Alan Horton). Towns also recorded his league-leading 65th double-double of the season.
  • Nemanja Bjelica finished the game with 10 points (including 2-of-5 from deep), 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Belly is now shooting 42.9% from three this season (75-of-175).
  • With the win last night, the Nuggets push their current winning streak to five games and are now 20-5 at home against Western Conference opponents.