It was hard not to look towards the future tonight rather than care too much about the results of the game. The Wolves have been officially sold, which may bring the most significant changes in the franchise's history. The CDC is ending mask mandate recommendations for the vaccinated. On the court, Anthony Edwards continued to highlight his boundless promise.
Ant was constrained in the first half, but exploded in the third quarter. He was legitimately unstoppable, getting to the line at will and bringing the Wolves back into the game after trailing throughout the first half. It’s becoming impossible to ignore how good Ant has become and what his promise holds. With 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists on efficient shooting and 12 trips to the line, this is the type of superstar performance that is becoming all the more frequent. There is no telling what next season will bring.
But the Wolves still lost, even if the game was closer than the final score suggests. The Wolves had a real chance to make this a real game after getting the lead down to three points at the end of the third quarter. However, a few threes from the Nuggets and the lead ballooned back to ten points and the Wolves were never able to get it close again.
Even though the Nuggets played without Michael Porter Jr., and continue to miss Jamal Murray, they fundamentally outplayed the Wolves. The Nuggets are played with huge lineups for most of the night. They started Javale McGee, Nikola Jokic, and Aaron Gordon. The Wolves had a difficult time matching up, as Jarred Vanderbilt attempted to guard Jokic with Anthony Edwards on Gordon.
McGee has long been a problem whenever the Wolves play against him and he only exacerbated the problems the Wolves had on offense. Karl-Anthony Towns attacks Jokic every chance he gets and has always believed he can back down McGee. But with both of them are out there the lane just clogs up and he ends up forcing bad shots.
The Wolves did not have a great solution with their starting lineup, as with Ricky Rubio and Vanderbilt out on the floor, they do not have enough shooting to punish the Nuggets' lack of mobility. Things greatly improved in the second half when Naz Reid replaced Vanderbilt with the starters, but they also were not big enough to stop the Nuggets from dominating the offensive boards. The Nuggets dominated the points in the paint 60 to 30.
This was primarily driven by Jokic, who was every part an MVP tonight. He rarely missed slowly waltzed through the Wolves to pick up an easy 31 points. The Nuggets got solid contributions from deep bench players like Vlatko Cacar and Markus Howard, who combined for 29 points while hitting 7 of the 12 Nuggets’ threes.
For as much went right for the Nuggets, things were going poorly across the Wolves roster. This was an archetypal bad Towns game, where even if his ending stat line of 20 points and 11 boards masked the overall poor play. He was forcing things inside with inefficient post-up isolations, overzealous with his passing which led to 5 turnovers, and picked up non-sensical fouls in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves’ bench unit should have been able to dominate the depleted Nuggets’ roster, but they lost both stints at the beginning of the second and fourth quarter. The typical DLo magic failed to materialize, even if he had an efficient night with 17 points. Outside of Naz Reid, the Wolves bench struggled to score.
Ricky Rubio was getting funneled shots in the first half and had a poor shooting night. Truly, outside of Ant’s third-quarter run, the Wolves played a poor game, but at least they were able to keep the game competitive.
A big problem was at the free throw line. The Wolves had vastly more success than the Nuggets at getting to the line, taking 32 free throws to the Nuggets’ 11, but they missed 14 of them.
This game was never going to the story of the night after the news broke of the Timberwolves sale. With new owners and the incredible ramifications of the upcoming lottery, it is hard to know where this Wolves team will go. But with Anthony Edwards leading the way, it is going to be a joy to watch.