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The Minnesota Timberwolves were in Denver on Wednesday night, playing the back end of a back-to-back. They had lost at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers the previous night. Fortunately for the Timberwolves, the Nuggets were playing shorthanded – Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Darrell Arthur were all out.
As seems to increasingly be the case since Zach LaVine went down, the Timberwolves jumped out the gate with Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins shouldering the scoring load, as they combined for the Timberwolves first 12 points. The Nuggets, on the other hand got points from all 5 of their starters in the first 6 minutes, including a number of highlight reel plays. Wiggins in particular came out firing as he scored 13 points in the first 7 minutes of game time. He really looks confident from the three point line; no hesitation at all when he gets an open look.
The Nuggets continued to shoot the lights out to the tune of 59%, led by Jameer Nelson’s 9 points in the quarter, but the Wolves managed to hang with them by getting to the line and making 7/8 free throws. Wiggins ended the quarter with 17 points, and Towns nearly cracked double digits with 9. The rest of the Wolves only took 3 shots combined, and the team only had 3 assists in the quarter. It was largely a 2 man affair. Wolves 32, Nuggets 31 after the first.
The Timberwolves started off the second quarter with both Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn on the floor, with Dunn handling point guard duties. After a messy start to the quarter, the Timberwolves emerged from the fray with a 4 point lead, prompting a timeout from Denver. Shabazz Muhammad led the second unit with 11 points on 3/3 shooting and 5/5 from the line. The second unit continued firing on all cylinders, with a noteworthy sequence: Kris Dunn dishes to Gorgui Dieng for a 3 pointer, followed by a Tyus Jones steal and a Dieng breakaway leading to a Muhammad dunk. The Nuggets fought back to close the deficit to 46-44 before KAT and Wiggins returned to the game at the 6 minute mark.
Andrew Wiggins continued to run the show with the starters on the floor (plus Kris Dunn, who played the whole second quarter), continuing his streak of 20+ point games with 23 points in only a half of play. The Nuggets cooled off significantly from the field, finishing the half shooting 48%. In particular, the Timberwolves big men were able to keep Nikola Jokic pretty quiet as he shot only 4/11 with 1 assist. The Timberwolves took a 62-60 lead into the half.
The third quarter started off slow, with the two teams combining for only 14 points in the first 6 minutes. A strong uptick in defensive effort by the Timberwolves was equally offset by some bad shooting. The Wolves were able to get it going midway through the quarter, jumping out to an 8 point lead. However, they were unable to maintain the defensive intensity (combined with some bad shooting by the Nuggets) that had contributed to the lead. Andrew Wiggins continued his big night, finishing the quarter on a high note with a big two handed slam. The Timberwolves gave up only 19 points in the quarter, and led 85-79 going into the final frame.
The Wolves second unit started off the quarter hot again, jumping off to a 7-2 run in the quarter and prompting a timeout by the Nuggets as they tried to keep the game in hand. Interestingly, Tom Thibodeau kept KAT on the floor with the backups to start the quarter, opting only to rest Andrew Wiggins of his 2 stars. This seems like a good strategy, allowing the Wolves to run their offense through Towns while Andrew rests.
The Nuggets weren’t going down easily though, as they hit 2 three pointers in a row to bring the score back to 92-87. It looked like this game might go down without a signature play from the Timberwolves until the 6 minute mark of the fourth quarter, when Andrew Wiggins absolutely posterized Nikola Jokic. For my money, that was probably his second most impressive dunk of the year, both due to the power and the man he was dunking over.
After the Wiggins dunk, the Nuggets mounted a couple comeback attempts, but were never really within striking distance. A dust-up following a Timberwolves free throw attempt led to a technical foul by Nikola Jokic. Wiggins shot the free throw, which resulted in his 40th point of the night – his second 40 point night in a row. The final minutes of the game took what seemed like an eternity (when are they going to reduce the number of timeouts each team is allotted?), but the Timberwolves were able to wrap up their 22nd win of the season. Final score: Timberwolves 112, Nuggets 99.
– This game belonged to the two Wolves superstars. Andrew Wiggins had 40 points on 15-26 shooting, and it seemed like he got to any spot on the court that he wanted to. As soon as he figures out how to pass out of the inevitable double teams that come his way, he’s going to be one of the scariest offensive players in the league. Not to be outdone, Karl Anthony Towns put up a monster stat line of his own, finishing with 24 points and 19 rebounds.
– Shabazz Muhammad had a nice game of his own tonight, finishing 5/7 from the field for 15 points. His trademark style of slashing through the defense and finishing at the rim is a joy to watch.
– The two stats that tell the tale tonight: 24/28 on free throws and only 7 turnovers. Hard to lose when you take care of the ball and take your free points at the line.
– Perhaps it was just an off night, but Nikola Jokic didn’t impress me as much as I expected based on the recent hype. He finished 6/19 from the floor and had a number of stupid fouls that looked to be out of pure frustration.
The Timberwolves played a solid game from start to finish Wednesday night in Denver, and it resulted in a nice road win against a team ahead of them in the standings. They now get a nice long break before playing the Mavericks at home on February 24th, at 7pm central. Enjoy the all star break everybody!