The Denver Nuggets outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-106 in Minnesota tonight, keeping the top seed in the Western Conference in Denver’s hands and sending coach Michael Malone and his staff to coach LeBron’s team in the All Star Game. Nikola Jokic had a triple double, Monte Morris added a double-double of his own with points and assists, and both Malik Beasley and Will Barton put up 20+ points for the winning side. Karl Anthony Towns had a monster game, with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists as no one from Denver’s squad could do much to slow him, but he was unable to close it out late and had to take the L.
Towns and Jokic traded baby hooks to open the game, then Towns and Beasley traded scoring cuts, and a three followed by a floater from Will Barton put Denver on top 9-6 early. Neither team could get on a run as more threes were exchanged, and then Beasley finished off a high alley oop from Millsap at the arc. Beasley was everywhere early:
Jokic snagged some offensive rebounds but didn’t finish at the line and a transition dunk from Taj Gibson tied it back at 17. The Timberwolves finished a 9-0 run to go up 5, and Minnesota did better work at the rim than Denver in the closing minutes and Wiggins splashed a last second jumpshot to put Minnesota up 38-29 after one.
Juancho Hernangomez dropped in a three to start the second quarter, and Denver’s bench fought hard to cut the lead down to 4 a couple minutes in. Some effort led to buckets and a Trey Lyles off-balance shot followed by his deep three gave Denver the lead back at 43-42 and a 16-4 run to start the quarter.
The teams traded fouls and buckets for a couple of minutes with neither team able to take a significant lead, as Denver trailed 56-55 when Millsap ripped down a nice rebound and assist to Jokic for the lead and Denver punishing the paint. The Timberwolves then ripped off an 8-0 run with some questionable mistakes and calls on Denver’s end, but Denver closed with some effort to trail only 3 at the half, 64-61.
Malik Beasley swished a three to start the second half, and Denver scrapped its way to enough second-chance points to retake the lead two minutes in. Malik hit another three, answered by Towns, and the two teams were off again exchanging buckets.
Can understand Jokic's frustration there. Grabbed three offensive rebounds, three different guys slapping on him the entire time. And he gets called for clearing space.— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) February 3, 2019
The physicality of the game picked up as did the referee inconsistency, and Jokic was called for a personal he didn’t agree with, getting a technical to boot. When he sat down the Timberwolves got back into the lead with Towns displaying a lot of energy and aggression. Denver’s bench matched it, though, and fought back with threes from Juancho and Lyles, and a Plumlee-to-Lyles oop put Denver up 1, 89-88 with a quarter to go.
Monte Morris scored on a beautiful cut to the basket as he kept Denver’s offense rolling with Jokic sidelined, and both Juancho and Lyles kept making buckets for Denver. The Timberwolves made a pair of threes in return to tie it at 98, though, as neither team could pull away.
Jokic came back in and made a couple of nice passing plays to put Denver up 4, but then both teams struggled to put the ball in the hoop and a Jokic turnover hurt. Towns hit a bucket to close within 1 and 102-101, and Barton’s three was answered by Bayless. Jokic got denied inside but then stopped Towns and had a long outlet pass to complete his triple-double.
Minnesota answered back with a dunk though, and a crucial turnover by Monte Morris with Denver up one left the ball with Minnesota with 14 seconds to go. Denver played good perimeter defense with Beasley stopping penetration and Jokic closing on the three point shooter and Denver left Minnesota with the one point win, 107-106.
And that means this gets to happen:
Michael Malone becomes the third head coach in Nuggets franchise history to coach in the All-Star Game, joining Larry Brown (1977) and George Karl (2010).— JD Shaw (@JShawNBA) February 3, 2019
Denver’s bench players were huge again tonight, even if Monte Morris was starting. Morris and Malik Beasley both started, and both were instrumental in Denver’s victory. Morris had a double-double, Beasley scored 20+ again, and Trey Lyles stepped up on the offensive end with 17 critical points. Juancho buried a pair of threes to help out as well. Most teams crow about their depth but don’t have players that can start and carry critical minutes for a team. Both Beasley and Morris were in for the stretch run and helped Denver carry this home. That experience is great for the playoffs, but also shows just how deep Denver really is.
Denver is not that deep in the front court, and needs more from its highly-paid big men. Not Jokic, who had another triple double on an off shooting night, but Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee scored a combined 4 points tonight and were not impactful in most other ways either. Denver needs those guys to be able to handle their playoff competition, so whatever else happens with Denver’s health this year a return to their deep front court would be a huge boon to a squad already brimming with actual returns and a huge potential ceiling.