Third quarter woes prevent Wolves win vs. Denver Nuggets

Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kenneth Faried

The Minnesota Timberwolves came alive during the early moments of the first quarter tonight. Karl-Anthony Towns attacked an indecisive Denver frontcourt early and often, a welcome sight after an uncharacteristically quiet outing in the Wolves win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday (Towns scored 11 points on 4-11 shooting). Against the Nuggets, he tried to score any chance he got, racking up 14 points by the end of the first from every spot on the floor. He wasn’t alone. Andrew Wiggins was step for step with Towns for much of the night, assailing the basket with relish while showing off a very promising touch from 3 point land. Within the first five minutes of the game Towns and Wiggins had traded back to back and-1’s, and his 10 first quarter points were second only to the Minnesota big man.

The team was playing physical, hungry to attack the paint and dare the Denver post players to try and stop them, and for the most part, it paid off.  Jokic gathered three fouls early and was a non-factor for much of the first half, remaining scoreless until 5 minutes remaining in the second quarter.

At times, Kris Dunn’s idea of an aggressive assault was closer to a bull in a China shop on the offensive end. He has a habit of careening out of control on the fast break, happy to chuck the ball up at full speed and pray it falls somewhere close to the rim. His four turnovers tonight were the fault of poor decision making around the hoop. He’s prone to compete for the quick score instead of getting the team into a halfcourt offense, and it led to a few costly possessions.

The other side of the ball was another story. Dunn was all over Mudiay tonight, forcing turnovers, contesting shots, and being an all around pest on the defensive end. The Denver point guard’s shooting woes continued, chucking up a dreadful 4-18, and his six turnovers were the result of Dunn’s relentless determination on the other side of the ball.

All good things must come to an end, though, and reality came crashing down for the young Wolves during another atrocious hellscape of a third quarter. Denver used the break to regroup and repeatedly pounded the ball inside to Nurkic who openly delighted in the chance to bang bodies underneath the basket on the offensive end. Both Towns and Dieng were no matches for the 280-pound center. Jusuf Nurkic played like a rejuvenated version of Nikola Pekovic, happy to bully his way into the paint, and after Denver eventually took the lead with 8 minutes left in the 3rd, Jim Petersen dubbed him as the injured Minnesota center’s rightful heir. The Wolves never really stood a chance afterward, content to sleepwalk through the rest of the third quarter. The Nuggets managed to outscore Minnesota 33-14. Nothing connected, no one was able to make stops, and the entire team looked out of sync and disjointed. The Wolves just couldn’t find a way to use their speed and athleticism to combat Denver’s toughness.

Minnesota was able to go on a halfhearted run in the fourth behind strong play on behalf of Bjelicia, outscoring Denver 24-14, but it was too little too late. Bjelicia’s attempted 3 to force overtime rimmed in and out. Denver walked away with the win, 102-99.

Bits and Pieces

Andrew Wiggins guarded Danilo Gallinari for much of the night, and it quickly became apparent the 6’10” forward was simply too much for the smaller Wiggins to handle on the perimeter. Gallinari repeatedly used his height to shoot over the top, finishing the night with 19 while shooting 4-7 from 3 point range.

Denver finished the night shooting 6-for-22 from beyond the arc, which just goes to show how effective they were in the paint tonight. They finished the game shooting 48.1 percent from the field compared to the Wolves 39.8 percent

Jamal Murray started his first game for the Nuggets tonight but failed to make a single basket during his 29 minutes of play. He’s sitting at 0-16 through the first four games of the year. Yikes. At this point in the season, it looks like the Wolves did the right thing by passing on the combo guard.

With the exception of Nemanja Bjelica, Minnesota’s bench was non-existent tonight, and could prove to be a big problem going forward. Denver’s second unit outscored Minnesota 45-23.

Perhaps the biggest letdown tonight was Gorgui Dieng, who finished the game shooting 1-6, with four rebounds and four turnovers. Dieng played significantly fewer minutes than Towns and Wiggins and committed a costly flagrant foul against Nurkic during the 3rd quarter. The two big men had been getting increasingly physical as the game went on, resulting in Gorgui dishing Nurkic with a swift knock to the head and neck area. Hopefully, he’s able to bounce back in Saturday’s matchup.

What’s Next

The Wolves return to the road to face off against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder this Saturday, Nov. 5 at 5:00 p.m. in Oklahoma City.



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