In the Minnesota Timberwolves first overtime appearance this season, they were unable to hold off a depleted Denver Nuggets team, shooting poorly down the stretch and losing 103-101 in Denver, snapping their three game win streak. After losing starting point guard Ty Lawson for the second half due to a sprained right ankle, and the ejection of backup point guard Andre Miller in the late third quarter, the Nuggets turned to undrafted rookie Julyan Stone to run the offense with no one else to relieve him from the fourth quarter on. Stone played respectably, particularly on the defensive end and he was able to provide just enough as the Nuggets improved to 18-15 on the season. Nene Hilario, Danilo Gallinari, and Rudy Fernandez were all unavailable for the Nuggets tonight, and they were sorely missed on the offensive end.
Although the Timberpups took this game to OT and only lost by 2, this is a game they really need to put in their rear view mirror. As a team, they shot a miserable 36-99 (36.4%) from the field and were unable to click on offense after a very nice start to the game. The Pups led by as many as 14 in the first half, but no one was able to really step up and provide reliable offense throughout the contest. Kevin Love recorded 22 points and 13 rebounds, but really struggled shooting the ball, going only 7-22 from the field. K-Love encountered excellent interior defense and very effective double teams from the Nuggets, and their defensive scheming was a difference maker tonight.
A big bonehead shout out to Martell Webster, who, with the Pups down by three with less than five seconds left in OT, stole Denver’s inbounds pass and went in for a two point slam-dunk instead of pulling up for a game-tying three pointer. We know he cannot shoot the three this season, but come on!
Ricky Rubio also had a tough night shooting the ball, as he went only 5-16 from the field. However, Rubio overcame his shooting struggles and was able to have a respectable game tonight, putting up 16 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 5 turnovers. Tricky Ricky was at his best on the defensive end and played excellent on-the-ball defense. The good wing defense and effective hedging by the Nuggets bigs were able to slow down Rubio and prevented him from creating easy opportunities for his teammates.
Big Nikola Pekovic went down with an ankle injury just before halftime, and it proved problematic for the Pups in the second half. Tyrannosaurus Pek was enjoying a very nice performance up until his injury, scoring 7 points and grabbing 7 rebounds, 6 of which were offensive. Led by rookie Kenneth Faried, Denver out-hustled and out-muscled the Wolves down low, winning the rebounding battle 57-50. Faried, the NCAAs all-time leading rebounder in history, played a tremendous game and did not miss a shot all night long, recording 10 points and 14 rebounds. Faried has become a fan favorite in Denver due to his amazing motor and relentless effort, diving after balls and doing everything he can to help the team, playing exactly like he did at Morehead State the previous four years. Without the intangibles that Faried brought tonight, the Nuggets most likely would have lost this one.
Wes Johnson had another quiet performance, scoring just 4 points in 18 minutes. The fact that Wes remains a starter is very confusing, and he continues to see the least minutes of all starters and is no longer a threat shooting the ball. The T-Wolves are in desperate need of a three-point shooter, shooting only 22% tonight from long range. Martell Webster received 32 minutes in Wes’ place, but shot only 1-6 from deep and missed several wide-open looks down the stretch. Webster has provided solid defense at times and guarded Al Harrington well in the second half, but the fact is that the Pups need a shooting guard who can SHOOT!
Al Harrington played out of his mind tonight, shooting 14-29 from the field and ended with 31 points off of the bench. Harrington was the main provider for the Nuggets on the offensive end in the first half, exploiting his matchups with K-Love and Derrick Williams. Webster was able to slow him some in the second half, but Harrington continued to have his way, and his remarkable play off the bench kept the Nuggets from falling behind big in the first half.
A pleasant surprise for the Pups came from Michael Beasley, who in 33 minutes scored 17 points and brought down 7 rebounds. Beasley’s jump shot was on tonight and he hit several key shots in the fourth quarter to keep the game square.
The other bench players that saw time tonight were JJ Barea (14 minutes), Brad Miller (6 minutes), Anthony Tolliver (9 minutes), and Derrick Williams (22 minutes). Barea had a forgettable performance and failed to do his job as a distributor, instead dribbling way too much and being selfish with the ball. Miller and Tolliver were non-factors, while D-Will played decently, recording 5 points, 4 rebounds, and a +8 (the only positive +/- of all Timberwolves bench players).
The Wolves need to improve their transition defense, and their lack of hustle down the court provides opponents with too many opportunities for easy buckets. Despite a lackadaisical defensive first half, the Pups played pretty well down the stretch on defense, but their inability to hit shots in the fourth quarter and especially OT contributed to their loss. The Pups look to get back on track against Utah at home on Wednesday night.
Key Play: Down 97-95 with less than a minute left in OT, Luke Ridnour missed a wide-open layup, leading to the Timberwolves having to foul and the Nuggets nailing their free throws, eventually securing a Denver victory.
Key Stat: 17 offensive rebounds for the Nuggets. The loss of Nikola Pekovic proved to be detrimental to the teams rebounding, and let’s hope that Pek’s injury is cleared up by Wednesday.
Key Player: Kenneth Faried’s extreme efficiency and unbelievable effort fueled the Nuggets win, and his relentlessness is inspiring his teammates.