Nikola Jokic’s monster effort leads Nuggets over Timberwolves, again – The Denver Post
Tired of arguing with officials, frustrated at another blown lead, Nikola Jokic put the Nuggets on his broad shoulders Tuesday night.
Jokic was instrumental during a game-changing 15-0 run midway through the fourth quarter, as his devastating offensive package and smothering, swarming defense ensured the Nuggets wouldn’t suffer another bad loss during the early part of the season. Their 123-116 win over Minnesota on Tuesday night improved their record to 3-4, and extended their dominance over the T-Wolves to 10 consecutive games.
Denver will get a chance to even its record to .500 on Thursday against Dallas.
Jokic, whose emotions in the first half threatened his availability, finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. His three steals helped stymie the Timberwolves in the fourth, where they managed just 20 points in their comeback attempt.
An uncharacteristically quiet night for Jamal Murray (15 points) gave an opening to Will Barton, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds. His frenetic defense on former Nugget Malik Beasley helped limit him to 15, while Juancho Hernangomez poured in 25 for Minnesota.
JaMychal Green played his best game as a Nugget so far, adding 17 points, including three 3-pointers, off the bench.
The Nuggets’ defense got marginally better in the third. After an atrocious second quarter, it couldn’t get worse.
Offensively, struggling wings Barton and Gary Harris found some semblance of rhythm in attacking the rim. They were buoyed by a resurgent Jokic, who following his foul trouble, came alive on the offensive end. Trailing 78-70 minutes into the third quarter, the Nuggets closed with a small surge and entered the fourth down 96-93. Their comeback was aided by an overturned foul call against PJ Dozier to end the quarter.
Following Sunday’s convincing win over Minnesota, Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t resting on any laurels.
“I kind of compare it to a playoff series where you should have a much greater awareness, a much greater discipline because you just played that team,” Malone said. “I don’t see many challenges. We know them, they know us.”
Ever since Game 82 – the final game of the 2017-18 season that sent the Nuggets home and Minnesota to the postseason – these two franchises have been on divergent paths. But as bad as the loss stung in the moment, it also set Denver on its current escalating trajectory.
“I think the most important thing that happened that game was myself, Tim Connelly, Josh Kroenke all realized, ‘You know what? Even though we lost this game in our third year with a chance to go to the playoffs, there’s no need to panic, there’s no need to make wholesale changes,’” Malone said before the game. “’Let’s stay the course.’ And the reason I bring that up is because that’s so uncommon in professional sports, period. Everybody wants to get rich quick scheme.”
Despite the Timberwolves’ recent struggles, their plucky roster didn’t stop attacking even after they got down double-digits Tuesday.
The Nuggets were rolling, up 51-35 midway through the second quarter. Jokic was slicing apart Minnesota’s defense, and Denver’s reserves added enough spark off the bench to keep the cushion.
After that, Denver’s defense imploded. The Timberwolves scored 27 points over the final 5:19 of the second quarter as their driving lanes and 3-point windows both expanded. Their run included a stretch of 22 consecutive points either scored or assisted by former Nuggets Beasley, Hernangomez or Vanderbilt.
Minnesota carried a 65-62 lead into halftime as a result of their 43-point second quarter. Their eruption coincided with another Jokic outburst. Late in the second quarter, instead of sprinting down the court on defense, Jokic bolted toward an official to complain a no-call on the previous sequence. He was called for a technical foul, then was subsequently called for an offensive foul on the next possession.
Teammates, including Paul Millsap, intervened before Jokic’s frustration resulted in something irrevocable. But the Nuggets’ once 18-point lead was gone.