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Nuggets 109, Wolves 80: Denver Not Kitten Around

Nikola Jokić spearheads a total team effort as Denver destroys Minnesota in the opening game of the series. Karl-Anthony Towns was chief among those who struggled, posting a 34.6% true shooting percentage.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Story

The Start

About six days ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves flew to Los Angeles for game one of the Play-in Tournament. After a demoralizing overtime loss, they packed their bags and flew home to host a playoff-or-bust match against Oklahoma City. A convincing win later, they took to the skies again to prepare for game one of the playoffs against the number one seed Denver Nuggets, led by their reigning back-to-back MVP, Nikola Jokić.

Would all of the drama, injury, travel, and altitude be too much for the Wolves to overcome?


Minnesota would weather an early punch by Denver and give a spirited effort in the first quarter. Anthony Edwards (18 points, 5 assists, 3 stocks) looked primed for a big game, scoring the Wolves first five points. Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson both played under control and chipped in a combined 11 points in the period as well, erasing a seven-point deficit to take a 17-16 lead. Jokić (13 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 fouls) was unsurprisingly unstoppable as both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert were ineffective, but a total team effort was able to hold the home team to just a 26-23 lead after the opening quarter.

Things looked good!

The Meat

Both teams opened the second quarter cold. Minnesota was able to get in the bonus with 9:11 left in the half, but it didn’t help that they could hardly convert from the free throw line (9/16). What also didn’t help was a quarter in which the Nuggets shot 50% from the field. Towns was the biggest culprit for the Wolves offensive mishaps. He often looked out of control and tried forcing himself back into rhythm. Edwards had a pulse, but the Denver lead had ballooned up to double-digits from beautiful ball movement and sharp shooting.

The Finish

Some may say the finish was somewhere between the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter. The second half was just a continuation of what fans saw before the break. Towns remained committed to his bit of (unsuccessfully) shooting himself out of a slump. Outside of him, the Wolves collectively sailed errant passes and loaded up bricks from the field. The death knell came as early at the 8:39 mark of the third quarter. Michael Porter Jr. (18 points, 11 rebounds) swished in a four-point play as Edwards committed his fourth foul of the game. An unsuccessfully Minnesota challenge didn’t change a thing, as Jamal Murray (24 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) shook off a poor start to the game and used the remainder of the half to get back into rhythm.

It was never close from there, as the deficit grew to 25.

Here are a few footnotes from essentially 20 minutes of garbage time:

  • Kyle Anderson and Christian Braun got into a brief scuffle, but the result was just a flagrant one foul, a make-up hug, and hecklers being heard on the TNT broadcast teasing Anderson about punching the wrong team.
  • Both coaches let their starters play a good amount of fourth quarter minutes. Denver was likely trying to get Jokić back to game shape, while Finch’s huddle audio was about trying to get themselves back into any sort of rhythm.
  • Ant took a flagrant one foul from Jokić as the reigning MVP dangerously swiped at Edwards’ head, throwing him to the ground. All seemed okay though, luckily.
  • Jaylen Nowell got some minutes early and late. He looked spry out there, somehow being second in the team in scoring by chipping in 12 points and a team-best 3 of 6 from perimeter.

When it was all said and done, it was a beatdown through and through. Head coach Chris Finch and his staff will have a lot of adjustments to make, but the good thing is that this may be as bad as it gets. Then again, if this season has taught us anything, it’s that things can always get worse.

Game Highlights

Monster Trucks
Third quarter action of Denver (red truck) versus Minnesota (all other cars pictured).

Canis Hoopus Comment of the Night

Some say Chief_Life_inCO is still glued down in Ball Arena

What’s Next

The Wolves get two days to rest, look at film, and figure out world peace aka how to guard Nikola Jokić. Though it’s one of those games where you want to burn all the footage, there were so many things Minnesota did wrong that they’ll need to analyze every minute of this. Game 2 tips off on Wednesday 4/19 at 5:00pm CT.

We’ve come this far. We might as well tune in, right?