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Recap: The Nuggets take a giant step towards the playoffs, defeat the Timberwolves

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The Nuggets scrapped for a win against the physical Timberwolves, winning 100-96 in a game that had playoff-like intensity from the opening tip.

The Nuggets were able to win a game they desperately needed to keep their playoff hopes alive, defeating the Timberwolves 100-96.

Jokic had 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists, but the star of the game was Devin Harris, who had 20 points to outscore the entire Minnesota bench for the game.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 13 rebounds, but somehow only took 16 shots, and fouled out late in the fourth quarter, dooming Minnesota.

Both teams hit their first couple of shots, before locking in defensively and forcing some missed shots. The Nuggets got a couple buckets to break the cold spell, and blocked Taj Gibson to get into transition, where Barton found Millsap for an alley-oop. The reserves took the court in the first rotation with the score tied even at 13, and the offense began to work through Millsap, who earned a trip to the free throw line against Gibson in the post.

The Nuggets had a tough possession on the defensive glass, giving up an easy offensive rebound to the Timberwolves, and they capitalized with an offensive putback dunk by Gibson after the Nuggets decided they weren’t interested in defending until they got a chance to score. The Nuggets ended the quarter with a Devin Harris 6-0 run, because ... he knows how to execute a two for one. He knocked home a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left, then was fouled by Tyus Jones on a 3-point attempt with a second left. While they had a 27-24 lead, the bad news is that Gibson had four offensive rebounds and three defensive rebounds.

Murray started the second quarter off with a rookie mistake, throwing the ball to Tyus Jones after being hounded by Derrick Rose, but he atoned by making a good defensive play to prevent a fastbreak bucket. Plumlee countered Murray by blatantly fouling Towns on a post-up, with the young big knocking in both freebies to draw Minnesota within one. Plumlee’s foul triggered a stretch where they couldn’t avoid committing penalties, preventing them from getting into a rhythm on offense.

The game got real ugly for a stretch there - both teams were just slapping the crap out of each other, and the refs were using their regular season whistles for a playoff-game type of game.

The Timberwolves reeled off an 8-0 run, highlighted by a Will Barton missed 3-pointer, Millsap missing two 3-pointers, Millsap missing a midrange jumper, and Plumlee missing an alley-oop. In their first six minutes of the second quarter, they scored six points.

That meant that while Jokic had two fouls, and needed a break, it was time for their franchise player to check back in the game. Wilson Chandler scored six straight points for the Nuggets, but Towns was too much for any Nuggets defender, and kept scoring at the rim to keep his team holding on to a lead. Jokic had a beautiful play, grabbing a defensive rebound and throwing a 70-foot chest pass to Murray, who pump faked his way into an open look.

The Nuggets were able to tie the game, but weren’t able to reclaim the lead down the stretch, with Jeff Teague making a difficult shot on a drive and giving up a transition bucket to Wiggins. Chandler cracked home another jumper, and the Nuggets were down just three points at halftime.

The good news? The Nuggets are getting a balanced scoring effort from their team, with Murray leading the team with 13 while three of his teammates each had seven points. Jokic had seven points, seven assists, and five rebounds, with a couple great passes. The bad news? The Timberwolves are killing it on the glass, with eight offensive boards. They also are defending well without fouling, but their starting bigs have two fouls each. It also feels like Karl-Anthony Towns could hit 50 points tonight, because no one on the Denver roster is capable of stopping him.

The second half started with a terrible charge call against Jokic, giving him three fouls and essentially turning him into a non-factor on defense for as long as he will play in the third quarter. Murray did his best to single-handedly keep Denver in the game, knocking in two 3-pointers, and converting a four-point play on the second make. Murray was a little too aggressive on defense, and Teague baited him into a ticky-tack foul call to earn a trip to the free throw line, where he split his two attempts.

Back-to-back turnovers by the Nuggets, followed up by buckets by the Timberwolves, allowed Minnesota to stretch their lead up to eight points. The general bleh feeling of the Nuggets compelled Malone to call timeout, leaving the team with three for the final 18 minutes of the game (one of which will surely be used before the end of the quarter). It worked for a possession though, with Murray blocking Teague and then Jokic knocking down (finally) a 3-pointer. The good times came to a crashing halt with Jokic picking up his fourth foul just as the Utah Jazz-LA Clippers game went final, with the Jazz pulling off a victory.

Towns kept doing work, cracking home a midrange jumper, but the Nuggets cut the lead to two points with a Barton triple that caused a ripple of energy to sweep through Pepsi Center.

The Nuggets were blessed by Devin Harris, who caught fire and starting chucking in more 3-pointers, and a game that seemed without hope was feeling so randy after Ludacris Harris helped them to a seven point lead at the end of the third quarter.

The Nuggets can’t have nice things though, and they gave up an easy basket to Derrick Rose in transition to cap a 7-2 run that demanded action by Malone in the form of a timeout. Plumlee floated in a hook shot, bumping the lead back up to two possessions. Jokic checked back in, but looked a little hesitant to pull the trigger from three after a tough shooting performance in the first half.

The Nuggets won a butt-ugly possession on their end, getting a couple offensive rebounds that culminated in Millsap drawing a foul on Towns, but he missed both free throws to keep the Nuggets lead at two points with six minutes remaining. But Towns has five fouls - although that does give him a chance to catch his breath for the final stretch of the game.

Towns update - he rested for approximately 30 seconds.

Thibodeau drew up a smart play out of a timeout, putting Jokic into a simple pick and roll, where he wound up fouling Taj Gibson, putting him a position where he had five fouls. Millsap made a crafty veteran play, putting Gibson in a position where the refs had to call a foul on him. Bjelica followed up a Towns jumper with a 3-pointer, and the Wolves had a three point lead with 2:30 remaining.

Murray made one of the greatest plays of the game with just under two minutes remaining, pump faking Towns into the air and getting the big man his sixth foul. Teague followed that up with a pass to one of the fans sitting courtside, which lead into a missed 3-pointer by Will Barton, although the possession remained in the hands of the Nuggets, with Bjelica fouling Chandler and sending the veteran to the free throw line.

Paul Millsap rebounded his own airball, got fouled, and made his free throws. Gibson drove on Murray, was fouled, and made his free throw, making it a one possession game with 30 seconds left. Barton missed a free throw as the shot clock expired, and Jokic tipped in the miss and the Nuggets .... they won the game!

Box Score

Three closing thoughts

Denver doesn’t win this game if Jimmy Butler plays. Hey, there, just raining on our parade for a second (it’ll end happier). This was a physical, scrappy game. Butler would have taken 15 free throws, and the game would have gone much worse for the Nuggets. They weren’t able to get into an offensive rhythm, and they tried to win on defense. If this is a precursor for the playoffs, well, at least Denver will be there.

Let’s talk about Devin Harris. WOOOOOOOO! That vet can play! Whether he was successfully executing a two for one at the end of a quarter or leading a run to give the Nuggets a lead, he was huge. Veterans know how to win basketball games, and he made a huge difference. If the Nuggets played a game like this in November or December, they lose.

Come to Stiffs Night Out. Seriously, the Nuggets are going to be playing for their postseason lives on Saturday. Come down to The Celtic on Market Saturday afternoon, join up with a bunch of Nuggets fans, and create some good juju to help the Nuggets to a win. There’s a chance the Nuggets could be playing postseason basketball against the not-Rockets-or-Warriors! Let’s get excited! Victory gifs and what not!

Game Highlights