Denver Nuggets 107, Minnesota Timberwolves 100: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Count the Denver Nuggets out at your own peril. Down three starters in a road game on the second night of a back-to-back, Denver continued to plug away and fight on both ends and ultimately secured a 107-100 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday. It was a physical, well-earned win for the Nuggets, who continue to rely on their depth to fuel recent success.

"We did a really good job rebounding, which was important," Nikola Jokić said. "Yes, we made a couple of mistakes, but Michael (Porter Jr.) had a good game, Malik and Mason had a huge game, especially Mase because he got hurt. It was a whole team effort."

It was a back-and-forth affair to begin the game, as the teams were tied at 16 midway through the first quarter. Jerami Grant knocked down two 3-pointers in this stretch and combined with Will Barton III to score all 16 points for Denver. Neither team could gain much separation in the quarter, but some late-quarter sloppiness from Denver helped Minnesota grab a 29-26 lead after one.

Mason Plumlee appeared to roll his ankle within the first minute of the second quarter, which forced Jokić back into the game earlier than usual. However, Minnesota was able to push its lead up to 44-36 midway through the quarter as Denver continued to struggle with turnovers. Once Jokić checked out of the game, the Nuggets went small with Grant at center and deployed a 2-3 zone on defense. The result was an 11-2 run which gave Denver some momentum down the stretch of the half. The Nuggets held a 55-54 lead at the break following a 19-10 extended run.

It was more of the same to begin the second half.

The game was tied midway through the third quarter. Minnesota was able to take advantage of some offensive struggles from Denver and took a 73-69 lead late in the third as a result of efficient ball movement. However, as was the case in the first half, Michael Porter Jr.’s presence impacted the game on both ends as the Nuggets closed the quarter on a 12-6 run to take an 81-79 lead.

Plumlee was able to return and inject some energy into Denver’s second unit with six-consecutive points. The Nuggets held a 91-85 lead with just under eight minutes remaining following Porter Jr.’s fourth 3-pointer of the night. A personal 5-0 spurt from Malik Beasley pushed Denver’s lead to 10 points with just under six minutes remaining, as the Nuggets seized all momentum. A 12-6 run by Minnesota cut Denver’s lead to just four with under two minutes remaining, but the Nuggets stabilized down the stretch on defense and closed out the win.

"Mase can surprise you," Jokić said. "He's a tough guy that is never going to quit or let his team behind. He's the guy who always wants to help the team. He's an amazing person and he's proving it every day."

Here are three takeaways from Denver’s win:

A standout game from Grant

It may have been 8 degrees in Minneapolis, but Grant was certainly warmed up. The 25-year-old forward dropped 10 points in the first quarter and never looked back, as he finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.

Once Plumlee went down with his injury, Denver turned to Grant to man some minutes at center in a zone defensive scheme. Grant’s length and athleticism allows him to cover plenty of ground on defense and contest shots, which is key to unlocking the potential of a zone defense.

Porter Jr. headlined the second unit once again

In what has become the norm, Porter Jr. thrived off the bench for the Nuggets when they needed it most. The 21-year-old forward had a double-double by halftime, but he only continued to pile on the numbers in the second half. Ultimately, Porter Jr. finished with 20 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes of action.

"He (Porter Jr.) made a lot of big shots," Jokić added. "We just want him to shoot. He needs the games to learn everything, but he's getting better. As long as he's aggressive, with the talent he has he's going to be great."

Porter Jr.’s impressive rebounding ability is key for Denver on both ends of the floor, as it can help spur transition play or create second-chance opportunities.

Denver won the battle inside

When it comes to matchups between Minnesota and Denver, the first focus will be on the battle between the two All-Star big men down low. Although Karl-Anthony Towns finished with more points than Jokić, the Serbian big man made up for it on the boards and with his distribution.

As a team, the Nuggets controlled the glass and outscored the Timberwolves in the paint, which was key in the victory. Denver finished with 53 rebounds to Minnesota’s 42, while the Nuggets also had a 50-44 advantage in the paint. Considering that the 3-point shooting disparity wasn’t all that significant for Minnesota, Denver’s ability to control the other aspects of the game was crucial.

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