DENVER — A game like Monday's 106-80 Timberwolves victory, when the Wolves beat the defending champion Nuggets to go up 2-0 in a playoff series without their best defensive player, was not an aberration for this team.

This was a night years in the making, with several moments that contributed to it.

It was a night a little over three years in the making, from when coach Chris Finch was hired and tried to instill a culture of constant competitiveness. It was a night two years in the making, from the moment the Wolves got Rudy Gobert, absent Monday to witness the birth of his child, but who has tried to instill the importance of defense, of developing good habits and bringing a consistent effort night in and night out. The Wolves did Gobert proud in one of the best defensive nights in franchise history.

And it was a night one year in the making, when the Wolves' season ended on the Ball Arena floor this time a season ago, and last summer when they committed to being a defensive-first team. Then, they were the team immature and not ready for the moment. Now, their defense has guard Jamal Murray (3-for-18, eight points) so frustrated that Murray threw a heat pad onto the floor during live action in the first half, a move Finch called "inexcusable" and "dangerous" and which is likely to draw discipline from the league office.

Their defense has Denver, one of the most composed teams in the league, discombobulated, its head coach Michael Malone sprinting across to scream in an official's face. The game ended with not as much noise for Denver and plenty from pockets of Wolves fans cheering as loud as they could as Nuggets fans had already made their way out.

"The goal has always been to put out a team that people like to cheer for," Finch said. "That doesn't happen unless you play hard and it usually doesn't happen unless you play defense and share the ball. We're doing all those things right now."

This was not a random performance for this Wolves team. They have been building toward a moment like this, when they stunned the basketball watching world with a defensive effort without Gobert that could be taught in clinics of all levels. The Wolves were relentless, suffocating and physical, and they made the Nuggets miserable.

The second quarter was their masterpiece, when they held Denver to just 15 points to go ahead 61-35 at halftime. The rest of the game was a formality. The Wolves, like they did with Phoenix last series, didn't just win the game, they seemed to strike at the very soul of Denver in holding them to 35% shooting and forcing 19 turnovers.

"The body language of our guys is not where I think it needs to be," Malone said "We got beat up in our building. We got embarrassed in front of our fans."

Now the Wolves return home with Game 3 at Target Center on Friday night.

"When I first got here, [the culture] wasn't the best, it wasn't perfect," center Naz Reid said. "But obviously we're all humans, and over that time we gradually got better. We got more cultured. Time to where we kind of became a unit, a team where we trust each other. We're selling out for each other."

The Wolves don't win without the effort of their big men on defense, Reid and Towns, two players who have not been known for their strengths at that end of the floor. They took turns battling Denver center Nikola Jokic without the backstop of Gobert manning the rim to help. They more than held their own.

"Big shoutout to KAT and Naz, they did a great job of not making us have to double [Jokic] tonight," guard Anthony Edwards said. "I mean, they was playing straight up and they played great defense without fouling. They definitely helped us a lot."

Towns also had a big night offensively when the Wolves needed it as he and Edwards both finished with 27 points. Towns started the night 7-for-8 and got the Wolves ahead 28-20 after one. Edwards revved his motor from there. Edwards finished with seven assists while Towns also had 12 rebounds.

Kyle Anderson started in place of Gobert, but Reid ended up playing a few more minutes than he did in part because Reid was doing so well defending Jokic.

One of Reid's initial baptisms in the NBA was to guard Jokic his rookie year when Towns was out, and Reid had no clue how he was going to guard him. It was a "Welcome to the NBA" moment.

That uncertainty guarding Jokic continued even up until last season, when Finch said Reid was afraid to even touch Jokic. Reid finished the night with four blocks in addition to 18 points. Jokic had 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting.

"I remember last year, I said I need like a year or two, and I think I really stepped up defensively with guarding guards and bigs," Reid said.

BOXSCORE: Timberwolves 106, Denver 80

Then there was the perimeter defense, which was airtight throughout the night. Jaden McDaniels sat most of the second half in foul trouble, but he and Nickeil Alexander-Walker blitzed Denver's perimeter players, especially Murray, like nobody can. McDaniels had just five points, but he was a plus-23 on the night and was the tone setter for the first-half defensive clinic. After the game, Edwards went out of his way to talk about McDaniels' impact and his selflessness to keep defending even when he doesn't get the ball much on offense.

"He don't complain, keeps guarding," Edwards said. "Keep picking up full court. And we wouldn't be the team that we are today, we wouldn't have been the team we was in the regular season [without him]. Hopefully we can keep him out there and he keeps playing like that because that's the X-factor of the team. Everything he brings, we thank him so much, man."

If there was a moment that encapsulated just how daunting the Wolves defense was, it came with the Wolves up 33-20 in the second quarter, when Alexander-Walker (14 points, three blocks) and McDaniels had Murray trapped near halfcourt. They would not let him out as Murray twisted and turned to escape or draw a foul. No whistle came to save him. The possession ended in a shot-clock violation, one of three the Wolves forced on the night.

"You lose yourself in the game almost," Alexander-Walker said of that moment. "You get carried away with the flow and the rhythm and just having fun, guarding, and — we got them. It's like an adrenaline play.

"You're just losing yourself in it, and it was just fun."

The Wolves made defense fun and exciting to watch. The process to get there wasn't always a fun one, but here they are, even when their defensive backbone wasn't.