MINNEAPOLIS — Sunday’s game won’t be showcased on any highlight reel, but somehow the Nuggets found a way to avoid a complete disaster.
And, of course, Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic was at the center of it. For the second game in a row, Jokic buried a game-winner that saved his team.
After a fourth-quarter collapse and a tense overtime session, Jokic drained a baseline jumper that sealed the game and seized the 100-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. Jokic’s game-winner over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night secured the Nuggets’ biggest fourth-quarter comeback in team history.
Down 90-74, the Timberwolves scored the last 16 points of the fourth quarter to send Sunday’s matinee to overtime. There, Will Barton connected on two 3-pointers to help offset a frigid offensive fourth quarter. Minnesota wing Josh Okogie couldn’t connect on a last-ditch heave at the end of overtime.
The victory improved Denver’s record to 7-2, including a sterling 4-1 road record.
For a team that had already seized three early road wins this season, the Nuggets didn’t act like a team that had been there before. They didn’t score over the final 6: 43 of regulation.
For the second game in a row, the Nuggets got an engaged, energetic Jokic to help spearhead the win. Denver’s superstar center poured in 20 points and dished seven assists. His much-scrutinized attitude was fantastic as he cheered and encouraged his teammates when he went to the bench.
Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 16 rebounds in the loss. Andrew Wiggins chipped in 25 points.
Nuggets guard Jamal Murray had 15 points and five assists, but didn’t score after the first quarter.
Veteran Denver power forward Paul Millsap changed the tenor of the game in the third quarter. He abused the Timberwolves inside, logging 14 points and five boards in the quarter alone as the Nuggets stretched the lead. Even celebrated rookie Michael Porter Jr. contributed off the bench with a 3-pointer that got Denver’s entire bench standing. The Nuggets poured it on with a 27-13 quarter even as Murray momentarily went back to the locker room to get his sore left foot checked.
Sunday marked the fifth consecutive game that the Nuggets had played at least 11 guys, in part due to Porter’s potential. The 6-foot-10 rookie finished with five points and four rebounds off the bench.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was justifiably wary of Wolves wing Wiggins, who’s been on a tear throughout the early portion of the season. Wiggins has averaged nearly 25 points per game and went for 40 in their last time out vs. the Warriors.
“Andrew is a (great) talent,” Malone said. “He has all-star abilities. I think the question in the past has been, does he do it consistently enough? Does he bring it every night? And right now, from afar, I’m just seeing a much more engaged and more important, a much more aggressive Andrew Wiggins. And when he plays that way, where he’s attacking, he’s shooting the 3-ball well, he’s really hard to defend and play against.”
After a sizzling start, the Nuggets’ offense stalled throughout most of the second quarter. The Timberwolves were up 46-39 with a minute remaining in the half before Denver’s scoring took off.
First Barton scored in the lane, and then Jokic sunk his first 3-pointer of the night. Following a Minnesota turnover, Jokic caught the defense sleeping and hit Gary Harris on a fly route for an easy layup. And before it was over, Barton buried a 44-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to salvage what had been a lackluster offensive performance to that point. The Nuggets ended the half with 10 points over the final minute to enter halftime down just 51-49.
Similar to Friday night’s game against the Sixers, Denver’s offense was predicated on production from Jokic and Murray. The two combined for 27 points and six assists in the first half against Minnesota’s underwhelming defense.
But behind Towns’ 15 first-half points, Minnesota gained a major foothold in the paint. They had 30 points inside and held a 29-25 advantage on the glass. Harris helped limit Wiggins to just nine points over the first two quarters.
Malone’s pregame scouting report held true.
“Obviously, your defense starts in transition,” Malone said. “Once we’re back, yeah, it’s the 3-point line (that’s most concerning). Karl-Anthony Towns, he’s shooting lights out from the 3 and a lot of attempts. But they also live in your paint.”
The T-wolves connected on just 4 of 23 3-point attempts in the first half.