DENVER — The Minnesota Timberwolves possessed every opportunity Monday night to not only surpass .500 once again but also match in a mere 33 games last season’s 17-victory total.
Then they watched all that—and perhaps even the right to mention that “p” word, playoffs—brush right past them in the night with a 103-101 overtime loss to a depleted Nuggets team in Denver.
The Wolves played their first overtime game of the season on a night when center sensation Nikola Pekovic sprained his ankle in the first quarter, left in the second and never returned.
The Nuggets played their second overtime in two nights, just 25 hours after they lost at Oklahoma City to a Thunder team that needed 51 points from Kevin Durant, 40 from Russell Westbrook and a triple-double from Serge Ibaka just to beat them by six points.
On Monday, the Nuggets once again started without injured Nene, Danilo Gallinari and Rudy Fernandez. Then they lost their top two point guards when Ty Lawson sprained his ankle in the second quarter and Andre Miller was ejected late in the third quarter and forged on into the fourth quarter and even into overtime with only rookie Julyan Stone left to run the show.
Still, they persevered, outlasting the Wolves in an evening that more closely resembled mud wrestling than high octane professional basketball, despite Al Harrington’s 31 points off the bench for the Nuggets.
With a victory, the Wolves would have reached the 17 they won last season and they would have caught the Nuggets, who are fighting Portland for what now would be the eighth and final playoffs spot in the West.
“Today was a great opportunity,” Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said. “We had a chance to beat a playoff team and make a big step in the fight for the playoff, but we didn’t.”
Without Pekovic, the Wolves struggled to keep pace with the Nuggets on the backboards and they struggled all night to make a shot, no more so than when Luke Ridnour broke free for the tying layup with 17 seconds left in the overtime and watched it roll around the rim and fall away.
“I couldn’t believe it didn’t go in,” Ridnour said on a night when his team shot 36 percent. “I thought it was in. It’s just one of those things.”
Neither team scored a point for more than the overtime’s first three minutes. Then those final 17 seconds turned into a contest of free throws that left the Wolves down by five with 8.8 seconds remaining and then still with the chance to tie the game with a three-pointer in the final five seconds.
The Nuggets had the ball, a timeout and a 102-99 lead with 4.9 seconds left. During the timeout, Wolves coach Rick Adelman later said he instructed his players to go for a foul and then shoot a tying three-pointer if they were able to get the steal.
The Wolves forced Stone into a bad pass, Martell Webster made the steal and … to the astonishment of Wolves fans went down the floor for a slam dunk that left the Wolves one point shy with 1.3 seconds left.
“We talked about we needed a three,” Adelman said. “I think he caught the ball, stole it and maybe emotions got the best of him.”
Webster claimed that wasn’t the case. He said he hoped to get to the rim, draw a foul and create a three-point play that would have tied the game.
“I don’t know, I don’t know if I was a mental thing, like I shot (a three) before that and didn’t knock it down,” he said. “I just wanted to be aggressive, get to the rim, possibly get a foul. But I didn’t. Most people probably would have pulled up for the three-point shot. Yeah, I can see why they would. If I had to do it over, I’d probably have done the same thing (shoot the three-point shot).”