The Denver Nuggets were in need of a win in a bad way as was their opponent the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both teams were missing key players with Michael Porter Jr and Karl-Anthony Towns sitting out. Jamal Murray got off to a blistering hot start for the Nuggets while Minnesota used a balanced attack to stay close early on. The game stayed tight all the way into the fourth quarter with Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell trying to keep pace with Murray and Nikola Jokic. Ultimately the Nuggets talent proved to be too much and they finally pulled away in the fourth quarter. Denver get’s back in the win column with a 124-109 victory.
Murray led a 10-4 scoring run for the Nuggets to start the game and Russell could do little to slow him down. The Timberwolves “big” starting lineup didn’t do them a ton of favors on offense so the Nuggets continued to grow the lead behind Murray. Jokic got himself into foul trouble midway through the quarter and had to come off with the Nuggets up seven. Minnesota took advantage of the minutes with Murray and Jokic off the court as well as the fact that the Nuggets defense was suspect to say the least. Beasley canned a three to pull the TWolves within three at about the three minutes mark (lots of threes) to force Michael Malone to take a timeout to re-insert Murray. The Nuggets defense tightened up a little but their offense went cold so Minnesota kept within a possession with the quarter ending. After one the Nuggets lead by just a point, 29-28.
The Nuggets stuck with Murray and the bench to start the second and they continued to struggle to find offense but played better defense, or at least as good of defense as you could hope for with JaMychal Green and four point guards. Murray kept the offense afloat to push the Nuggets back up by a half dozen. He got a breather about halfway through the quarter while Jokic checked back in. The Nuggets were unable to take advantage of the fact that the Wolves stayed small despite Nikola being on the floor. Luckily, Minnesota was equally bad on offense so the Nuggets lead held. Murray came back in with five minutes to go and that got the offense cooking again with the Murray/Jokic two man game. The Nuggets got it up to nine before Jokic picked up his third foul and had to sit again. There were a whole lot of bricks to close out the half which ended with the Nuggets up 55-48.
Murray and Jokic picked up right where they left off to start the second half but Russell was cooking for the Timberwolves. The Nuggets defense wasn’t putting up much resistance but they got themselves on a mini-run around the eight minute mark and paired it with a couple stops to keep in front by eight. After a timeout Minnesota refocused on offense to stop the bleeding. They did more than that in fact. The timeout sparked a 10-0 run to get the Wolves all the way back into the lead. The Nuggets responded when their bench started to check back in with Murray still on the floor (who was getting to the line on the regular). The defense was still a struggle though which kept it neck and neck as the quarter came to a close. After three Minnesota clung to a one point lead.
Nikola's floaters give us life pic.twitter.com/YuK8ycEsvR— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 4, 2021
Murray got a rest to start the fourth while Jokic came back on the court and orchestrated a Denver run to take back the lead. Joker strung together three straight rebounds to go with three straight assists, inching closer to a triple double and pushing the Nuggets on an 11-0 run. Minnesota called a timeout but it did little to slow Denver or Joker who quickly completed his triple double and pushed the lead to fourteen. Minnesota got their offense back in order but they didn’t have an answer for the Nuggets who were starting to run away with it. At one point Denver was up 30-8 in the quarter. The Timberwolves found a way to keep producing on offense but they were quickly running out of time (also Facundo Campazzo was killing them from the corner). With two minutes left the Nuggets were still leading by twenty points but both teams played their starters almost to the end. With about a minute to go the benches finally emptied and it was all over but the singing. Denver gets the win 124-109.
Three things I noticed
Best matchup: Jamal Murray vs D’Angelo Russell
Murray and Russell are two similar style players and both showed off their scoring prowess tonight. Murray was unconscious to start the game and carried the Nuggets through a slow start. He cooled off a bit in the second half but still found timely baskets. Malone staggered Jamal and Nikola tonight to keep one of them on the floor at all times and that paid dividends with Jamal. Even when he wasn’t flat out dominating he was leading the team on the court, directing guys and keeping the Nuggets going in the right direction. Russell wasn’t as dominant on offense but he certainly had his moments. In the end it was an eighteen point scoring night and 4/7 from downtown effort from D’Lo in the loss.
Main point: the staggering worked
There was a moment late in the first where it looked like the bench was going to let the Nuggets down again. However, Malone got Murray back into the game and that helped keep things afloat while Jokic got a rest. After that, throughout the game he kept that rotation and it truly was the difference maker. The Nuggets bench is really hurt by Porter Jr.’s absence because it leaves them with no options for score first playmaking. Murray provided that tonight when Denver needed it most and Jokic orchestrated beautifully with the bench to put the nail in the coffin. The guy losing out tonight was Isaiah Hartenstein who didn’t get minutes but with the Wolves also playing small it was an excellent bit of coaching from Malone to use the rotation the way he did.
Closing thought: back it up
Winning tonight was a step in the right direction. Jokic recorded yet another triple double, Murray looked like the all star player everyone is hoping he’ll be this season and the Nuggets bench hit their shots when they were open. Still, Denver is just 2-4 on the season and has some ground to make up. The good vibes from tonight will be evaporated if they lose to this same Minnesota team in Denver in a couple days. Porter will be back at some point and until he is Jokic and Murray will need to carry the load like they did tonight. Nuggets are back on track, now they need to stay there.