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Takeaways from the Nuggets Opener Against Minnesota

LAS VEGAS — The Nuggets chopped a 14-point second half deficit to one, but fell just short in an 85-78 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night at Cox Pavilion. 

A game played to a low first quarter score (15-14 Timberwolves) opened up in the second quarter as both teams settled in. Minnesota outscored the Nuggets 50-42 in the second and third quarters to get just enough breathing room to hold on for the victory. 

“It took us to the second half to kind of get going and start playing defense,” Nuggets summer league coach Ryan Bowen said.

It, however, was a solid debut for Nuggets first-round draft pick Christian Braun. He was fantastic in his first professional competition, finishing with 18 points, five rebounds, and one steal in 30 minutes.

“He was aggressive,” Bowen said. “He was aggressive attacking. He was 1-for-7 from three, but he didn’t let that faze his game. He played his game, he got downhill, tried to get to the basket.”

And he wasn’t alone in bringing energy.

Center Ismael Kamagate, the Nuggets’ second round pick, did not start the game, but when he entered his presence was felt quickly. There was a put-back dunk as part of three offensive rebounds — and four rebounds overall — in his first four minutes on the floor. He helped keep the Nuggets close early and finished with six points and seven rebounds.

Collin Gillespie and Matt Mitchell added 11 points each as the only other Nuggets players in double figures. 

The Timberwolves were led by forward Josh Minott, a second-round pick out of Memphis, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. 

The Nuggets return to action on Sunday against Cleveland. 

THREE TAKEAWAYS 

Braun’s Two-Way Impact: As advertised, Christian Braun was solid on both ends of the court. His night started with a fast-break alley-oop dunk, a step back jumper, and a near steal off a deflection on the defensive end. He did get a strip steal in the second quarter, igniting a fast break that ended with the Nuggets getting out in transition, drawing a foul, and making two free throws. He attacked the basket flowing to his left off of dribble handoff action and had a tough finish through contact. And for good measure, he sprinkled in an offensive rebound and putback, and a putback dunk.

“A lot of people kind of come in and try to be someone that they are not,” Braun said. “I think I’m a guy that’s consistent with what I do. I’m going to shoot open shots, try to offensive rebound, play hard on defense — get some steals and get in transition. And I think I was true to that today.”

Gillespie’s Savvy: Point guard Collin Gillespie already owns one of the Nuggets two 2-way contracts, and he quickly displayed why they have so much faith in him. His game was heady and steady. He was pressed and hounded all over the floor most of the night by an active Minnesota defense that picked him up full-court many times. But he did not wilt under that pressure. Gillespie handled it and kept the Nuggets’ offense on schedule, finishing with four assists and zero turnovers. 

Defensively, he was intuitive and opportunistic, leading the Nuggets with four steals. And when he needed to score he did so effectively, scoring a couple of times around bigger players and finishing with 11 points. Afterward, he said he needs to be more aggressive as a scorer going forward, but this was a solid game all around for the former Villanova star.

Nuggets Stars in the House: Shortly after the game started, the Nuggets regulars started to flow into the arena. First, was Michael Porter Jr., who sat courtside next to his good friend, Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks. Porter Jr.’s brother, Jontay, started the game for the Nuggets Friday night. Next, was Jamal Murray, who immediately sought out coach Michael Malone and teammate Bones Hyland, who were seated courtside as well.