Nikola Jokic took the ball for Denver behind the basket after a turnover by Minnesota and, seeing teammate Malik Beasley breaking open past the defense, fired a full-court pass as if he were playing football as a 7-foot quarterback.
Beasley hauled it in and didn’t even have to dribble, dropping in a layup for a three-point lead with 1:02 left.
The Nuggets are catching everything in stride these days.
Jokic had his 25th career triple-double with 13 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, reaching the milestone with his bold heave to Beasley that helped the Nuggets hang on for a 107-106 victory over the Timberwolves on Saturday night.
“We just kind of find a way to win the games, especially the close ones. We never quit anymore,” Jokic said.
The Wolves felt like they did, at least on that fateful play. Andrew Wiggins was jogging back, but he was too many steps behind Beasley to catch him. Jerryd Bayless had his head down and didn’t see the ball until it was too late.
“That ball was up in the air like a Ray Guy punt, for four seconds,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “But our guys find ways.”
With a dunk by Luol Deng followed by a steal by Taj Gibson off Monte Morris, the Wolves took final possession with 14.5 seconds remaining with a prime opportunity to win. The play designed by coach Ryan Saunders for Bayless to drive to the basket with Karl-Anthony Towns near the rim was thwarted by Denver, forcing the Wolves to settle for a 3-point try by Deng from the corner that bounced out with 3.5 seconds to go, though. The rebound by Towns, who had 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, was too late to create with.
“Got a good look,” Towns said. “It just didn’t go in.”
The Wolves were more upset by their defensive lapse a few seconds earlier.
“We just weren’t paying attention,” Bayless said.
Said Wiggins: “Bad awareness.”
Beasley had 22 points, Will Barton pitched in 20 and Morris had 17 points and 10 assists for Denver.
The resilient Nuggets (37-15) showed why they’re tied with Golden State for the Western Conference lead while raising their record on the second half of back-to-back games to a gaudy 8-1. Winning their sixth straight game as they started a four-game road trip after arriving at their hotel around 4 a.m., the Nuggets added another accolade by ensuring that Malone will head to the All-Star Game with Jokic by virtue of a tiebreaker edge over the Warriors.
“To be going there with Nikola is going to be great. I told him that if he’s on the other team, I’m going to double-team him every time. So his All-Star debut might be a tough one,” Malone joked.
The Wolves failed to take full advantage of Jokic’s extended time on the bench in the second half after he argued a foul against him and was slapped with a technical foul by official Tony Brothers. When he was on the court, he was well-defended underneath by Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and Towns, going just 4 for 13 from the floor. But the Serbian star is more than just a low-post scorer.
The Nuggets are 23-2 when Jokic has a triple-double. He moved into a tie for 13th place with Clyde Drexler on the NBA’s career list, with the 25th of his career.
Bayless had 15 points and 10 assists for the Wolves, who welcomed Derrick Rose back in a reserve role for their banged-up backcourt, after he missed the previous three games and 11 of the last 19 because of right ankle trouble. They’re still missing point guards Jeff Teague (six in a row and 15 of 23) and Tyus Jones (eight straight) to left ankle injuries. Then there’s small forward Robert Covington, the centerpiece of the package that came back from Philadelphia for Jimmy Butler who has been out for 15 consecutive games because of a bone bruise on his right knee.
The afterthought in that trade was Bayless, who needed more than a month after his acquisition to finish his left knee rehabilitation before finally making his debut for Minnesota. With little choice for Saunders but to play the 11th-year veteran, Bayless has scored in double digits in six straight games.
Nuggets: With original backcourt starters Jamal Murray (sprained left ankle) and Gary Harris (right adductor strain) still out, the Nuggets improved to 7-2 with Beasley and 4-0 with Morris in the starting lineup. … This was Beasley’s ninth 20-point game this season.
Timberwolves: Towns notched his 34th double-double and his 11th game with 30-plus points. … The Timberwolves led 38-29 after the first quarter, their largest of the game and their second-highest opening-period total of the season.
Nuggets: Play at Detroit on Monday.
Timberwolves: Start a three-game road trip at Memphis on Tuesday.