The National Football League team in Denver tries to win games "kicking and screaming" and for one night, the National Basketball Association team in Denver decided to follow that pattern.
The Denver Nuggets ended up with more points than the Minnesota Timberwolves, winning on the road 78-74 to snap a six-game losing streak. Danilo Gallinari had a game-high 20 points, stacking up bricks on a 6 for 15 performance from the floor while grabbing seven rebounds.
The game started odd, with Ricky Rubio knocking down two 3-pointers to help kickstart the Timberwolves offense. Gary Harris was having none of that, knocking down a shot from the perimeter as the two teams began to trade baskets. The game got interesting once Nikola Pekovic checked into the game with about 4 minutes remaining, and Nikola Jokic was tasked with guarding him for a time. The Timberwolves shot 50 percent from the field, but the Nuggets only shot 35 percent, with Nurkic going 0-4.
The Nuggets won the second quarter, with the highlight of the quarter the possessions where Nurkić and Towns went mano a mano in the post. Towns blocked Nurkić, and Nurkić blocked Towns, but the Nuggets kept getting offensive rebounds and managed to close the Timberwolves lead to two points by the end of the quarter. The Timberwolves don't take many 3-pointers, and that allowed the Nuggets to keep the game close (and was a theme all night).
The third quarter was abhorrent basketball - at least for the first half of the quarter. Jameer Nelson couldn't get the Nuggets offense going, there wasn't any ball movement, and the Timberwolves went on a run solely because the Nuggets couldn't get the ball in the hoop. Nurkić checked in for the Nuggets after six and a minutes of futility, and all of a sudden, the offense couldn't miss. Eight straight made field goals, and that swung the game for the Nuggets. Randy Foye was the best point guard for the Nuggets tonight, and I'm completely sober.
The Timberwolves went into the break and decided, "The Nuggets had a bad stretch, but we can definitely trump that." The Nuggets tightened up on defense, Nurkić refused to let the Timberwolves find open space in the paint, and they owned the defensive glass to make sure the defensive possessions ended quickly. The Nuggets "won" the final frame, 12 to 9, with the Timberwolves only managing to register two field goals in the quarter. Two. Minnesota called timeout with 15 seconds left, down 76-74, but Andrew Wiggins missed, then missed again after getting a rebound on his shot, and the Nuggets had possession after the loose ball bounced out of bounds. Darrell Arthur had a clutch block on Towns, and Will Barton made both of his free throws to clinch the game.
Let the record show that Nurkić had a beast game in his third game of the season. 15 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and two assists for his first double-double of the season, and he made a huge impact on the game in the third quarter. God bless Randy Foye for doing a wonderful job filling in for Emmanuel Mudiay one more time. I hope the rookie returns soon.
Three Things to Watch
A Return to Health. Unfortunately, Emmanuel Mudiay didn't feel mentally ready to return to the lineup, and was not active for the game tonight despite earlier indicators that he would be ready. Jusuf Nurkić looked healthy, but rusty, especially when having to go against fellow mountain Nikola Pekovic. He looked wary of the potential harm Pekovic could inflict, and that altered his shot attempts. In the second half, Nurkić's audacity was in midseason form, and he was able to make a difference on offense and help power a run that gave the Nuggets a lead.
Defensively, Nurkić looked okay, and his defensive rebounding continues to help his team end possessions. Nurkić also had a great moment when he blocked Zach LaVine and jawed at the Minnesota guard while he was prone on the baseline. Nurkić finished with five blocks - vintage Nurkić. He also struggled to avoid "happy hands," and drew a few unnecessary fouls - classic Nurkić. With Jokic and Nurkić, the Nuggets are going to be set at center for a long time.
The team that figures out it's identity for this game should win it. These offense are not good. The Timberwolves stayed true to their offensive identity by not taking 3-pointers, and the Nuggets stayed true to their identity by shooting poorly from the floor. The Nuggets went away from their identity by not moving the ball around the court well, and resorting to isolation basketball too often. The Timberwolves went cold in the fourth quarter, with two field goals in the final frame, and helped the Nuggets down the stretch.
Team Stars Still Matter. The Nuggets were able to muzzle Karl-Anthony Towns, who had a quiet game. Andrew Wiggins took a lot of shots, but wasn't efficient and wasn't a difference maker. The Nuggets were content to let him post up 20 feet from the rim and work for his shot attempts, sending help if Wiggins beat his defender or gang-rebounding if he launched a jumper. For the Nuggets, Gallinari had a nice game, but Nurkić was the real star of this game. He overplayed his minutes-restriction, but without his efforts, the Nuggets wouldn't have won this game. For tonight, Nurkić was more valuable than Towns.