DENVER — Chris Finch’s pregame comments on Sunday proved prescient. The Timberwolves coach liked that his team, which had to make its way into the playoffs via the play-in tournament after a stress-filled late-season run, entered the playoffs as a proven team in the battle.
But then he noticed the other side of the coin: Maybe Minnesota would realize their season was no longer on the line and could take a breather. Regardless of Sunday’s result, Wolves would live another day.
That ill-advised mentality would be the best case scenario for Minnesota as an explanation for its Game 1 debacle.
The Timberwolves were beaten in every way, falling 109-80 to the top-seeded Nuggets.
Minnesota was not competitive for the last three quarters. Denver was more physical and played with more drive. The Nuggets ran from one side of the court to the other, all too often catching Minnesota on a jog.
The Nuggets’ defensive game plan was flawless. Denver allowed Nikola Jokic to freely defend Rudy Gobert while he served as a roving defender in the paint. The Nuggets used Jokic as a helper while protecting Karl-Anthony Towns with better athletes who could pressure Towns on the perimeter.
Towns was nervous all night. He finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four turnovers, and seven of those points came in the final frame with Minnesota over 25 points.
Gobert was just as bad. He couldn’t punish Denver for lack of defensive attention and he couldn’t move from one side of the court to the other with any kind of urgency. Perhaps the center is still fighting back spasms, but that level of performance won’t cut it in this series.
Outside of the flurry of a second quarter, Anthony Edwards was also relatively quiet.
Despite its struggles, Minnesota trailed by just 11 at the half. But Denver delivered a knockout blow early in the third, opening the third quarter on a 9-1 run that seemed to put all doubts away about the outcome of the contest.
The Timberwolves shot just 37 percent from the floor and 31 percent from deep. Denver, meanwhile, shot 41 percent from deep, a logical number considering the wide-eyed looks the Nuggets generated, largely out of Jokic’s gravity.