Denver Nuggets 128, Minnesota Timberwolves 116: Three takeaways
On a night full of hugs, celebrations and high-powered offense, the Denver Nuggets got back to winning ways with a 128-116 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The win secured a sweep of the season series for the Nuggets, who used a balanced scoring attack to fuel their success. In their returns to Pepsi Center Malik Beasley finished with 17 points and eight rebounds while Juancho Hernangomez contributed seven points and four rebounds for Minnesota.
"That first quarter there was zero defense played by either team," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "The turnovers were an issue once again tonight. A lot of guys stepped up. Paul was phenomenal, while guys off the bench were really impactful as well."
Denver came out of the gates firing on all cylinders offensively. The Nuggets went 8 of 8 from the field in the first five minutes of the game which helped propel them to an early 21-12 lead. Paul Millsap racked up eight points during this stretch, with six of those points coming from beyond the arc. The 35-year old forward finished with 12 points in the frame. However, Minnesota battled back throughout the remainder of the quarter and Denver’s lead was cut to 43-38 heading into the second. Denver shot an astounding 17 of 20 from the field in the high-scoring quarter.
Minnesota battled back to tie the game at 49 early in the second quarter as both offenses continued to find success. The Timberwolves continued to attack from beyond the arc and following their eighth 3-pointer of the first half, they took a two-point lead at the midway point of the quarter. Millsap continued to have his way offensively as he led Denver on a brief comeback to regain the lead late in the half. Denver’s veteran leader added seven more points in the second as the Nuggets took a 73-65 lead into the break.
Minnesota wouldn’t go away quietly, as a 10-3 run to open the second half cut Denver’s lead down to just three at 78-75. Although the Nuggets responded with a 13-6 run to build the lead back up to 10, the Timberwolves continued to chip away and cut the lead down to six late in the quarter. Denver rebuilt the lead back up to 10 at 97-87 heading into the final frame.
Continuing the trend from throughout the game, Minnesota briefly cut the Nuggets’ lead down to six points early in the fourth quarter, but Denver continued to respond to regain a double-digit lead. However, the Nuggets put the foot on the pedal during the middle stages of the quarter, blew the game open and took a 122-102 lead with four minutes remaining. The closing minutes were straightforward as both coaches went to their bench reserves to close it out.
"It's great to see both Juancho and Malik playing well for them (the Timberwolves)," Malone said. "Obviously we miss them, but we're happy for their success."
Here are three takeaways from Denver’s win:
Millsap led the way with a standout performance
Just over two weeks removed from his 35th birthday, Millsap looked more like the four-time All-Star version of himself on Sunday evening. The veteran jumped out early with 12 points in the first quarter and followed that up with seven crucial points late in the second that helped give the Nuggets the lead following the Timberwolves’ comeback.
"Paul had a rhythm," Malone said. "That was fun to watch. He shot the ball really well from the 3-point line."
Despite foul trouble, Millsap finished with 25 points and seven rebounds and perhaps most impressive was his ability to score from all over the court. The 35-year-old knocked down four 3-pointers, hit four shots inside the paint and added a mid-range shot for good measure. Millsap also added two blocks on the defensive end for good measure.
No defense? No problem for Denver
As one can easily tell from the final score, both teams struggled mightily on the defensive end, especially in the first half. As mentioned earlier, Denver knocked down 17-of-20 shots in the first quarter and although the team’s field-goal percentage dipped in the second, it still landed at 68.2 percent in the first half.
Despite the scoring dip in the third quarter, the Nuggets finished the game 53-90 (58.9 percent) from the field and 11-of-30 (36.7 percent) from beyond the arc. In what was a reversal from the first half, Denver tightened up on the defensive end following Minnesota’s 38-point first quarter. The Timberwolves scored 27, 22 and 29 points respectively in the final three quarters.
A balanced attack and dominance in the paint fueled the offense
The Nuggets offense looked more like the unit fans have been accustomed to seeing all season, as the ball was moving and Denver made shots from all over the court. On Sunday, the result was a very evenly-distributed performance on the offensive end, as six players finished in double-figures. The Nuggets also dropped 76 points in the paint, compared to 50 for Minnesota.
Denver racked up 29 assists on the night and had a healthy distribution of shots coming from beyond the arc (30) and at the charity stripe (17). As a result, it’s no surprise to see the Nuggets have success against a Minnesota defense that ranked 18th in the league heading into Sunday’s contest.