MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 27: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 27, 2017 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Nuggets Fight Back in Second Half, but Fall in Overtime to Wolves

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

MINNEAPOLIS --- In the end, Wednesday night’s game became a battle of wills.

It was overtime, and Minnesota had three starters out. But Jimmy Butler was still on the court, and he was making one clutch shot after another. Meanwhile, the Nuggets had battled through a rough start, a 19-point deficit, and were starting to execute with real precision in the game’s most critical moments.

But their final shot fell awry and the Timberwolves escaped with a 128-125 win at the Target Center, in one of the most thrilling games of the season. The net effect was a Nuggets three-game winning streak that was snapped. Minnesota also stretched its current win streak over the Nuggets to four.

But the Wolves had to work all the way to the buzzer to get it.

“Down 19 points in the second half, second night of a back-to-back, we could easily have folded,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We could have rolled over. I like the fact that our guys never did that.”

That started with a big increase in energy on defense.

The Nuggets were down by 13 points at halftime, 71-58, and it was an inability to get a foothold defensively that was the culprit. Minnesota started out by hitting their first five 3-point shots on offense, and on defense they pressured every Nuggets ball handler, bumped every cutter, contested every shot, and just generally made it tough for the Nuggets to operate. They had to work so hard on nearly every possession, and for a team coming into the game on a second of a back-to-back, expending that kind of energy early was an issue.

But, in the third quarter, things started settling down and the Nuggets settled in. They found their legs, and defensively is where it showed up quickly. Now, it was the Timberwolves that had difficult possessions, and on defense Minnesota struggled to keep up. Karl Anthony-Towns fouled out in the fourth quarter.

At the same time, Will Barton and Trey Lyles were heating up. Barton found his scoring touch and poured in 20 second half points. Lyles has been solid in second halves pretty much the entire time he’s been a regular part of the rotation. He scored 11 second half points and took two important charges in the fourth quarter as well. He and Barton knocked down five 3-pointers in the second half, which helped push the game to overtime.

But in overtime, Butler asserted himself. Towns was out. Jeff Teague was injured late in regulation and could not continue. Taj Gibson fouled out as well. Minnesota put the ball in his hands and he delivered 11 of the Wolves’ 13 points in overtime. Butler finished with 39 points.

The Nuggets were led by Barton's 28 points -- his second-highest point total in a game this season. Lyles recorded his third double-double of the season, 23 points and 10 rebounds. Nikola Jokić had 22 points, nine rebounds and Jamal Murray had 22 points, a career-high eight assists and seven rebounds.

“Give Jimmy Butler credit,” Malone said. “We tried different things. He was very effective, got to the foul line. … Definitely a tough loss, but I like the fact that we never quit, never gave up and just kept on fighting.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.