MINNEAPOLIS -- The Denver Nuggets survived a stealthy surprise attack launched under the cover of darkness just as the sun fell Wednesday in Minneapolis, overcoming in a 101-94 victory a Minnesota team that welcomed back surprise starter Kevin Love from a broken hand.
Love had scored 22 points and the Timberwolves led by 17 points in the first half before the Nuggets seemed to know what hit them on a night when Love returned weeks earlier than expected.
But Denver withstood the emotion of an opponent getting its two-time All Star back before a big holiday-night crowd and persevered. They reversed course with a 25-15 third quarter in which Andre Iguodala hit three 3-pointers and Danilo Gallinari followed right behind him.
In the fourth quarter, they put the Wolves away in the final five minutes, thanks to point guard Andre Miller's play, Ty Lawson's crucial 3-pointer that put Denver ahead for good at 90-87 with 4:13 left and Kenneth Faried's driving dunk right after that.
The Nuggets offset Love's 34-point, 14-point debut by getting double-digit scoring performances from five players: Gallinari led everyone with 19, Iguodala and Lawson each had 18 and Jordan Hamilton provided 12 points and Miller 11 off the bench.
Denver coach George Karl called his team's second half "the best balance of offense and defense that we've played all year."
You can probably credit that to some intermission time spent adjusting to Love's presence and a little halftime motivation.
"We yelled and screamed a little bit at halftime and they did great," Karl said. "I thought (the Wolves) would get a bounce with Kevin Love playing and starting, but didn't think they would get that big of a bounce."
Love scored 16 of the Wolves' first 21 points, and they led 21-10 in the first eight minutes.
Love made his surprise season debut after a New York City hand specialist reviewed new X-rays on Tuesday and determined that right shooting hand had fully healed.
Teammates said they didn't know Love would play until they showed up for a walk-through before the game and discovered him at the starting power forward spot.
"I didn't want to make a big deal about it," Love said. "I told my teammates, and they didn't really believe me. Once they saw a jersey in my locker, they believed it was true. I did everything I could to stay in shape and wrap my mind around coming back. I said all along that I was going to be back and on the floor."
He picked around what he called a rather rusty 34 and 14 performance that included 22 points in the first half.
About 200 people more than normal rushed the Target Center box office to buy tickets in the 60 minutes before the opening tap when it became clear that Love would play for the first time since breaking his right shooting hand on Oct. 17.
"I didn't learn until maybe 60 minutes before game time," Karl said. "I didn't overreact to it. I hit my head like, 'OK, we have not shown any film or anything on this matchup, Kevin Love is an All-Star player and thankfully it's a 48-minute game.' "
On the night before Thanksgiving, Karl was thankful for all of those 48 minutes.
"Thank God we hung around," said Karl, whose team has won games at Memphis and Minnesota in three nights. "It's a great win, but to do that on the day before Thanksgiving is kind of special for me. I'm going to drink a few beers and enjoy it."
NOTES: Nuggets F Wilson Chandler missed his fourth consecutive game because of a hip injury. Guard Julyan Stone still hasn't played yet this season, also because of a hip injury. ... The Nuggets look a bit like Timberwolves West with former Wolves Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos and Anthony Randolph on their roster. The list numbers four if you include Ty Lawson, whom the Wolves drafted for Denver 18th overall in 2009 and then traded to the Nuggets. ... Love's return meant that former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams moved from a starter's job to not playing at all Wednesday. Coach Rick Adelman turned to veteran forwards Dante Cunningham and Lou Amundson instead and sat Williams all night -- just one game after he scored 23 points, including 15 in the first half, against Golden State.