Coming into tonight’s contest, 7 of the last 9 matchups between the two Northwest Division foes had been decided by 3 points or less (and/or gone into overtime), with Minnesota being on the right side of 5 of those 9 matchups. While the streak of close games continued Saturday night, it was the team from 914 miles to the southwest that eventually came out on top.
Led by their own All-Star big, the Nuggets strung together just enough plays down the stretch to knock off the Wolves 107-106, pushing their record to an incredible 37-15, tying them with Golden State for tops in the Western Conference. Not only did the victory help Denver in their race for home court, but it also secured Mike Malone an all expense paid trip to Charlotte, NC to coach “Team LeBron” in the 2019 All-Star Game (the Nuggets won the tie-breaker over the Warriors because of their better record against the West). Malone was asked postgame about what this latest accomplishment meant to him and his team:
“You know it’s an honor. Honestly there was a very small part of me that wanted to relax with my family and be a husband and be a father for a few days but anytime you can represent your team, your city, your fans at the All- Star game it’s an honor. To be going there with Nikola Jokić is going to be great. I told him that if he’s on the other team I’m going to double team him every time. So, his All-Star debut might be a tough one but I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for me, our staff, our staff deserves a ton of credit. They work their butts off, I’m very thankful for everything that they do for me every single day.”
Back to Nikola Jokic for a second... the 7’0” Serbian big man was simply fantastic Saturday night, notching his ninth triple-double of the season (and 25th of his career) with 13 points, 16 boards and 10 assists. Despite battling foul trouble for most of the game (as well as his temper in the third quarter), Jokic seemed to make a big play every time the Nuggets needed one, including this Tom Brady-like Hail Mary down the stretch that ironically resulted in the game-winning bucket:
When asked after the game about this play in particular (as well as the lack of execution in general), a frustrated Jerryd Bayless had this to say:
As mentioned above, not only did that touchdown pass give Jokic the 10th assist for his triple double, it also gave Denver the last two points they needed to hold off Minnesota for the victory. At 107-106, the Wolves did get frisky to close the game, forcing a timely turnover, but the results of their good fortune on defense was an unfortunate missed look for Luol Deng, who hit 4-of-11 shots in 20 minutes, but couldn’t get this final attempt to drop. After the game, Head Coach Ryan Saunders analyzed his team’s final play:
“Where we had the ball in the back court, obviously would have been nice to get in the half court, but… what we wanted was Dario to slip out, Bayless comes off, KAT act like he’s running into another pick-and-roll, he backs up and Bayless is coming off like he’s either going to the rim or he’s got KAT at the rim because Plumlee has to step up…we didn’t get it. They played it well.”
When asked about his team failing to get over the hump and close it out, Saunders added “We were searching for some shot makers at points and it was a faster game in a way at times without many stoppages of play, so we had to get some guys breaks at different moments. We had a couple of good bench contributions. Just came up short.”
As the for other All-Star big man on the court Saturday night, Karl-Anthony Towns was his usual dominant self, notching his 34th double-double of the season with 31 points and 12 rebounds. KAT also tallied a season-high-matching seven assists, marking his ninth career game of 30+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists. According to our friends at Timberwolves PR, only Kevin Garnett (37) and Kevin Love (13) have accomplished this more times than Towns. KAT’s enormous night was highlighted by this poster dunk that attempted to bury all 11 Plumlee brothers at the same damn time:
However, in the end, the superstar performance was overshadowed by the disappointing final score, and Towns himself reflected on what went wrong that led to Minnesota’s demise:
“Too many 50-50 balls. It wasn’t even something at the end. We had put ourselves in a position where everything had to go right and everything didn’t go right. 50-50 balls throughout the game, I mean Jokic had a lot of second- chance points, the guards came in got a lot of second-chance points. One of the biggest things with that team is obviously, neutralizing Paul Millsap and neutralizing their guards and their second-chance points. I mean, we did everything right but that part and that’s a huge part of their game. Especially off a back-to-back like they had yesterday and today, giving them life, giving them confidence, giving them a spark, that energy hurt us down the stretch.”
When asked if this loss stings more than others, Towns added, “Yeah, I mean two games in a row we had a chance and we didn’t come out on top. Close games it’s always rough to lose a close game. With everything with us and the history, you know obviously, it was a rough one.”
At 25-27, the Wolves now sit 11th in the Western Conference, 3.5 games back of the 8th place Los Angeles Clippers. With the NBA Trade Deadline just a few short days away, and the Wolves about to embark on a three-game road trip, might we have seen the last of guys like Derrick Rose, Anthony Tolliver, and Taj Gibson at Target Center? Only time will tell.
Full Game Highlights
- With 15 points and 10 assists, Jerryd Bayless recorded his second straight double-double and sixth of his career (first time in his career he’s recorded back-to-back double-doubles). He has now hit the double-digit mark for points in six straight games. While the last play of the game wasn’t exactly textbook, Bayless has indeed played his ass off since getting an opportunity, and has propped the Wolves up in the absence of Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones.
- Speaking of injured point guards, in his first game back since missing three games due to right ankle soreness, Derrick Rose tallied 5 assists as well as 8 points. Rose has now dished out 5 or more assists in 20 games this season. It was fairly clear that Coach Saunders had Rose on a minutes restriction last night, subbing Rose out as soon as he hit the 20-minute mark, despite the Wolves needing a scoring punch from someone on the wing (Andrew Wiggins and Josh Okogie combined for just 15 points in 56 combined minutes).
- There was a “M. Beasley” sighting at Target Center last night, just not the one you’re accustomed to. After scoring a career-high 35 points against Houston on Friday night, Malik Beasley poured in 22 points against Minnesota, marking his ninth 20+ point outing of the season.
- Speaking of Nuggets you may not be familiar with, Denver’s Monte Morris posted his first ever double-double with 17 points and 10 assists. With Jamal Murray and Gary Harris both on the shelf due to injury, Beasley and Morris stepped right up and gave Jokic and the Nuggets the support they needed to continue their hot season. Whatever they’re putting in their water (or their pipes) in Colorado must be working, because no one is developing young players as of late like the Denver Nuggets. Props to them.
- If you’re looking for a glimmer of optimism after another disappointing result, I’ll leave you with this:
12 games into the Ryan Saunders era, 8 @Timberwolves games have been decided by four or less points.— Shahbaz Khan (@ShahbazMKhan) February 3, 2019
Really excited to see how much better the team is going to look when RoCo, Teague, and Tyus are back.