Santa outdid himself for Nuggets fans this year bringing a win in Portland against the Trail Blazers followed by a back to back blowout against the Golden State Warriors, and a home win against the Utah Jazz. But, unfortunately the excitement was stalled tonight as the Nuggets dropped the second game of their most recent back to back against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Minnesota was able to get some quick points on the board as a result of second chance opportunities courtesy of the Nuggets. Mason Plumlee did a good job of boxing out, but Karl-Anthony Towns’ wingspan proved difficult to handle, and the Nuggets coughed up precious rebounds allowing the Timberwolves to capture a 12 point lead. The Nuggets struggled to gain their defensive footing, and Malone put the second unit in to shake things up. Nikola Jokic put up 9 points in the quarter followed by Will Barton with 6 points in just under 6 minutes, but it wasn’t enough. The Nuggets ended the quarter looking gassed, and down by 12 points.

The Nuggets continued to show fatigue, and failed to be active choosing instead to put up long range jumpers from distance. The Timberwolves continued their their scoring extravaganza into the second quarter with little protest from Denver who failed to execute on the defensive glass. Just when things looked as if they were spiraling out of control, Jamal Murray began to take things a little personally. With time running out in the second, Murray inspired the Nuggets to move the ball and finish at the rim bringing the 19 point Minnesota lead to 13 heading into halftime. Murray and Jokic led the Nuggets on scoring with 13 points each followed by Barton, Trey Lyles and Wilson Chandler with 8.

Denver opened the second half with a spurt of energy, but a couple of missed free throws from Plumlee (I cringe when Plumlee goes to the line—39.5% free throw percentage for the season), kept the Timberwolves in a healthy lead. Coach Malone put Barton and Lyles back in with hopes that they might help get things going offensively, but the shots just wouldn’t fall for Denver.

Murray was just 2 for 6 from the three point line, and Harris didn’t fare any better at just 1 out of 5. But, with just under 4 minutes to play in the quarter, the Nuggets began to scramble on defense setting themselves up for a 14-2 scoring run. Taking advantage of a Towns’ breather, Barton and Lyles went to work cutting the lead to just 6 points heading into the final quarter of the game.

The Nuggets tapped into their reserves, and opened the 4th quarter with intensity. A four-point play from Trey Lyles, and a mid-range floater from Barton tied the game at 90 with just over 10 minutes play in the game. Murray fought his way to the rim, and combined with Barton and Lyles to allow the Nuggets to capture lead from a 19 point deficit.

The Nuggets defense then went into hiding again, and they gave up a 9 point lead at the 3 minute mark. Barton then made a fast break finishing at the rim and getting the and-1 point to foul Towns out of the game. Another quick 3-point shot from Barton brought the Nuggets to within 1 point with around 30 seconds to go. A Harris – Jimmy Butler jump ball, and Jeff Teague injury later, the Nuggets tied the game to put it into over time.

Harris was the first to score in overtime with a three point shot to liven up his abnormally quiet game. Malone put his best foot forward with my favorite lineup of Murray, Harris, Barton, Lyles, & Jokic, and the Nuggets executed on moving the ball with the bench tallying a +30. Barton found Lyles under the rim for two uncontested dunks, but Butler did work to go shot for shot with Denver to keep things tied. The Nuggets fought hard, but ultimately Butler proved too much to handle and they lost by 3 points 128-125.

Top three takeaways:

A little defense goes a long way.

The Nuggets were visibly tired tonight, and they struggled to get their legs under them. However, they had moments where they executed fairly well on defense resulting in an offensive spike each time. The Nuggets are beginning to be much more consistent on D, and we’re seeing how effective they are when they execute on both ends of the floor.

Trey Freakin’ Lyles.

Trey Lyles is now the NBA’s 3rd leading 3 point shooter, and he’s made his presence known for the Nuggets as of late. Tonight, Lyles brought in 23 points at 61.5% from the field and 50% from 3. He also contributed 10 rebounds, and committed only 1 turnover. At just 22 years old, he was a great steal for Denver. I can’t wait to see him develop on the team.

The Nuggets are learning to dig deep.

If Denver wants a chance to make it in the playoffs, they need to learn how to fight to win close games. Tonight’s game wasn’t pretty, but the Nuggets fought hard toward the end, and took the game to overtime coming back from a 19 point deficit. Overall, they can’t play like they played to start tonight’s game, but it was good to see their effort come through in the end.