Neither team was able to put together a solid effort shooting the basketball, but in the end, the Nuggets were able to get hot when it mattered, and they were able to win their fifth game in a row, 109-100.
Nikola Jokic picked up a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, putting together a really solid performance in a game where he didn’t have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns on either end of the court. Jamal Murray stayed hot, leading the team in scoring with 28 points on 19 shots.
The two teams combined to shoot 20 for 70 from the 3-point line, going long stretches of the game without a made field goal for either side. The scoring came in bunches, but the Nuggets were just able to get buckets from their two stars while the Timberwolves could only really get points after mistakes by the Nuggets.
The Nuggets started the game off with a flurry of baskets, jumping out to a 12-4 lead with a little help from 3-pointers from Will Barton and Jamal Murray in just about two minutes of game action. Jokic was able to muscle Gorgui Dieng under the rim, flipping in the ball and causing Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders to call timeout. Millsap hit a 3-pointer of his own, while Jokic was able to get some shot opportunities for the guards to further stretch out the early lead.
The Nuggets missed their second shot of the game with 2:25 left in the quarter when Jordan Bell rotated over and swatted a shot in the paint from Jokic. The Nuggets shots eventually stopped falling as they got sloppy on offense, and that same level of energy in transition lead to some really easy points for the Timberwolves, who cut the lead to 33-20 at the end of the first quarter.
Jerami Grant was able to start the second quarter with a mid-range jumper, his first basket of the game. He had a nice play in transition as well, sprinting back on defense and knocking the ball out of bounds, a welcome change after the team’s miscues in the first -quarter. MPJ airballed a 3-pointer, but Monte Morris was in the right spot at the right time, catching it on the other side of the rim and laying in the unexpected pass.
The Timberwolves, who started 1-14 on their 3-point attempts, were able to knock down a few shots from the perimeter. A couple failed possessions for the reserves on offense lead to easy points for Minnesota, and they were able to continue their run into double digits. The starters checked back in, with Torrey Craig filling in for Barton, with the lead just four points. A lot of their shots were falling short, as if they had played a game the night before (they had not). Gary Harris was able to get a steal after Jeff Teague tried a jump-pass back to the top of the key, and Jamal Murray was able to convert a defensive 3-second technical shot after Gorgui Dieng got a little too campy in the paint.
Jokic had an up-and-down run to close out the quarter, picking up a couple of baskets and assists, particularly to Jamal Murray, but also had some plays where he was noticeably angry with the officials for missing some calls he felt he deserved. He was able to get a block on Wiggins, and helped set up Murray to get the lead to 61-51 at the half, finishing the first 24 minutes with 12 points, 6 boards, and 6 rebounds.
The second half started off ugly for both teams, with a lot of fouls and missed shots being called on both sides. Jokic was able to snap the scoreless streak, working with Murray in the pick and roll to get some shots while headed downhill, then beating the defense on a rumbling, bumbling, stumbling drive to the rim. Outside of Jokic, the Nuggets couldn’t buy a bucket with a blank check, letting the Timberwolves scratch their way back into a game they had no business rallying back into.
Malik Beasley was able to get into the game, with Michael Malone searching for anyone that would be able to get a basket. He immediately was able to reward his coach, knocking down a shot from the right corner. Murray must have been inspired by seeing another guard for the Nuggets score, and he was able to toss in shots on back-to-back-to-back possessions, including a filthy step-back 3-pointer. They ended the quarter with a rough turnover from Plumlee, who tried to pass the ball through a defender to Porter Jr, while jumping and leaning sideways. Despite that incredible display of athleticism, the Nuggets were able to maintain a seven point, 82-75 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Monte Morris had two nice possessions to start the fourth quarter, getting a bucket and an assist on a kickout to Jerami Grant for a 3-pointer. They made a point to get Plumlee rolling to the basket, trying to take advantage of the veteran’s experience to generate open shot opportunities for the team. It was surprisingly effective, with the Nuggets able to get Plumlee a layup, while Barton was able to fake the pass, shifting the defense and opening up a layup for himself.
Both teams continued to attack the rim, but a 3-pointer from Malik Beasley open the floodgates for the Nuggets, who started pouring it in from outside. Murray hit a 3-pointer, then Jokic, and the lead ballooned back up to 19 points in the blink of an eye. Murray missed a couple shots, Barton got called for a charge and a turnover after a defensive rebound, but a steal by Harris that lead to a dunk iced the game.
It’s okay to win ugly. This wasn’t a pretty win, outside of a few stretches of radiance in the first and fourth quarters. There were many stretches where the Nuggets weren’t able to get shots to fall, but that’s okay. They had good process throughout the game, with just enough mistakes mixed in for the coaches to find things to correct. When they weren’t turning the ball over (15 this game), they did have some bad transition defense sequences. These are things they can correct though, and they avoided getting distracted by their next game. This was a good win.
Murray is feeling hot. As the weather gets colder, Murray continues to heat up, and it couldn’t be a better time to do so. The Nuggets have some big national games coming up, with the game against the Lakers on Sunday, and the Christmas Day game against the Pelicans. If Murray is able to have big performances in those games, that can be a coming out party for the team’s future highest-paid player and help provide some fuel for a potential All-Star run. He’s been having a great season so far, and he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.
Malone was great tonight. It is a monumental challenge for Malone to find the right allotment of minutes for all the players on his bench right now. I’m sure he feels pressure to give MPJ minutes, but he also doesn’t want to lose Malik Beasley or Torrey Craig. Beasley played the most minutes of that bunch tonight with 14, while Porter had 10, and Craig with only four minutes, but the Nuggets needed Beasley’s perimeter shooting badly in the third quarter, and he responded perfectly. I liked how well Malone staggered minutes with Grant and Millsap, and gave Barton a chance to play with the reserves. I think Malone continues to be underrated on his level of impact on the entire franchise — he’s having a great season too.