Injury-depleted Wolves worn down by Nuggets in final minutes of 115-112 loss

The Timberwolves were down nearly 21 feet of height on their front line entering a matchup with the MVP frontrunner in Denver center Nikola Jokic. With Karl-Anthony Towns (knee), Rudy Gobert (rib) and Naz Reid (head injury) all out, the Wolves were going to have to battle the Nuggets without the weapon they have stockpiled to take down Denver — their size.

Toughness and effort were not in short supply, but shotmaking was for most of the night in a 115-112 loss to the Nuggets despite a plucky effort from the shorthanded Wolves.

Anthony Edwards, who was playing through a dislocated left middle finger, had an open look for a three that would have tied the game from the left wing as the buzzer sounded, but Edwards' shot fell short as he finished with 30 points, but none in the fourth quarter as Denver blitzed him to get the ball out of his hands.

"That's probably on me maybe to try to get the ball in his hands a little bit more," coach Chris Finch said. "But we had some other decent looks and guys will normally step up and make those things, so that's what we've been preaching."

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The Wolves didn't start hitting threes until the end of the game, when Mike Conley (13 points) and Jaden McDaniels (26 points) each hit to pull the Wolves to within one to set up Edwards' final attempt after two Jamal Murray free throws with 4.2 seconds left. But the Wolves made their bed down the stretch after they went ahead 93-89 with 7 minutes, 10 seconds to play. Jokic checked back in and behind him and Michael Porter Jr., who scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth, Denver went on a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead.

The Wolves shot 34% from three-point range while Denver was 52% as the Nuggets scored 70 in the first half and held on despite a much more stringent Wolves defensive effort in the second half. Jokic finished with 35 points on 14-for-22 shooting and added 16 rebounds.

"Regardless of who we have or don't have, I thought we were looking for shortcuts defensively in the first half," Finch said. "Ball contain was poor, ball pressure was poor. We just weren't fighting people enough. … And then we picked up the physicality in the second half and it made all the difference in the world."

Kyle Anderson committed three fouls in the first three minutes of the game, which meant Luka Garza got extended run off the bench as he tangled with Jokic for 22 minutes. He finished with 11 points and six rebounds while going 4-for-11 from the field (2-for-8 from three-point range).

"I think I made some good adjustments at halftime to play Jokic a little bit tougher and get a little bit more physical with him," Garza said. "I wish I would've done that from that start. I felt solid about it. A lot of great looks. Wish they would've went down."

BOXSCORE: Denver 115, Timberwolves 112

The same went for a lot of Garza's teammates, who were just a few more makes from pulling off an important victory. One silver lining for the Wolves was that McDaniels had his best offensive night in a while with 26 points, including 4-for-6 from three-point range.

"It was good to see, really good silver lining for us is that he had a great game offensively, and he's been struggling to find that touch and rhythm," Finch said.

With the loss the Wolves are now in third place in the Western Conference, one game back of both Denver and Oklahoma City.

Even as the Wolves weren't accepting the moral victory, Conley said a night like Tuesday showed some of the team's collective toughness, something it will need down the stretch of a season in which it will see Denver two more times on the road.

"We have faith in everybody that plays, and for us to have a showing like we did tonight going against one of the better teams out there, it shows a lot of grit, shows what we're made of," Conley said. "No matter who's out there, you got a guy with a dislocated finger [Edwards], you got guys out there with sprained wrists and ankles and knees. You just love to see the guys build around each other and find ways through it, and tonight was one of those nights."