Denver Nuggets 100, Minnesota Timberwolves 98 (OT): Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets (7-2) had a case of déjà vu as Nikola Jokić delivered in the clutch once again in a 100-98 win over the Timberwolves (5-4) in Minneapolis Sunday afternoon.

"This is just adding to the legend of Nikola Jokić," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said before later adding. "I didn't doubt it [the game-winner]. Even if it didn't [go in], I'm going to live with it because he's our best player. He's an MVP candidate for a reason. He's got two game-winners back-to-back, showing everybody why he's a special player. "

With 2.4 seconds remaining in overtime, Jokić received a kick out from Will Barton III and calmly swished a shot from the left elbow to secure the victory. It was another confident performance in consecutive games for the Serbian, who led the Nuggets with 20 points, seven assists and six boards. Minnesota’s star duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins paced the home team with 25 points apiece. 

The Nuggets got to a strong offensive start as they went toe-to-toe with the home team to finish 27-27 after the opening 12 minutes. Jamal Murray was impressive early on as he hit his first four shots and had 15 points in the quarter. Jokić was also aggressive against Minnesota in the first quarter – scoring nine points on seven shots.  Barton III would cap a hard-fought second quarter with an almost miraculous three-point heave from past half court to keep the Nuggets’ deficit at 51-49 at the break. 

Paul Millsap got the Nuggets rolling in the third quarter as the team opened with a 14-4 run against the T’Wolves. He hit his first two field goals of the night during the stretch and would go 4 of 5 in the quarter. Denver ended the quarter on a 11-1 run as it entered the final 12 minutes with a 76-64 advantage. The team’s defense held the home team to just 13 points in the third. 

After falling behind by 16 points, Minnesota would make a run in the fourth quarter. The team went on a 16-0 run late and held Denver scoreless for over seven minutes. Towns hit a three to tie the game at 90. Murray had a chance to ice the game in the final nine seconds of the game, but his shot at the 0.4 second mark missed the rim. 

In overtime, Jokić would end the Nuggets’ offensive struggles with a put back on a rebound at the 3:40 mark. Barton III would keep his teammates in the ballgame by hitting two clutch threes to give the team a lead. With the game tied at 98, Jokić iced the game to secure Denver’s fourth win in a row. 

"We have to be better in terms of playing with the league and closing games out," Malone stressed after the game. "That being said...We never panicked." 

He added, "I told our guys, 'It's hard to win in the NBA.' So we're 4-1 on the road and we beat a division opponent. There's a lot of things we can clean up, but overall the defense was great. I loved the togetherness, toughness and resiliency." 

The Nuggets now return to the Mile High City to take on the Hawks at Pepsi Center Tuesday. 

Here are three takeaways:

Thrill and Joker in the clutch

Less than 48 hours from burying a game-winner against the 76ers, Jokić hit another from almost the same spot against the Timberwolves. 

"That's the shot I've worked and it seems like I can only make tough shots," Jokić said jokingly to Katy Winge after the game. "With the way the night was going, I thought I was going to shoot an airball." 

This is the second-straight assertive game from the Nuggets’ center as he took 23 shots on Sunday after taking 22 on Friday. Despite only shooting 39.1 percent Sunday, it was encouraging to see Jokić fight through earlier struggles to secure the Nuggets' result. He wasn’t alone in delivering for the Nuggets in crunch time, however. 

Barton III had a strong overtime, playing hard on both sides for the Nuggets as he collected two crucial rebounds for the team in the quarter. He would finish the game with 13 points and 12 rebounds, continuing his strong start to the season. 

"He's such a complete player," Malone said. "WIll had it going and I wanted Will and Nikola to make the play. Will found him and Nikola took care of the rest. Right now, Will is playing at a high level for us." 

Microwave Paul 

Millsap was 0-of-4 with zero points, four rebounds and a block in the first half. He made up for it with a monster third quarter. The 34-year-old sparked Denver with strong plays on both sides of the court and had 14 points and five rebounds in the 12-minute stretch. Millsap put the Target Center on notice as he turned back the clock with a thunderous slam on Jake Layman, yelling loudly after the play. 

"Just playing basketball and trying to be aggressive," Millsap said. "I sensed that I needed to go strong with the ball...I put an emphasis, especially on that play, to go up strong and finish." 

After a slow start to the season, Millsap has been quietly picking up momentum over his past six games. Entering Sunday’s contest, Millsap had averaged 13.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in just 25.2 minutes in his last five games. He is also hitting 57.1 percent from downtown in that stretch. In Minnesota, Millsap’s highly-efficient scoring proved pivotal in the Nuggets’ win. 

Defensive remains dominant

The Nuggets imposed their brand of basketball to ensure the T’wolves, one of the top offensive teams in the league, wouldn’t get into rhythm. 

Prior to Sunday’s game, Minnesota was the NBA’s quickest team with a 108.8 pace rating (1st) and the fourth-best scoring team in the NBA, averaging 117.8 points per game. The team was also eighth in made threes per game (12.3). The Nuggets held Timberwolves to under 100 points Sunday, despite playing five quarters. More impressively, Denver kept Minnesota largely quiet on threes as the home team hit 6-of-45 shooting from downtown. 

"Overall, the defense is what held us in this game," Malone said. 

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