DENVER – Until Wednesday’s frantic 105-103 loss at Pepsi Center, the Timberwolves hadn’t played the Denver Nuggets since way back in November, in the season’s fourth game.
Back then, a 15-point, first-quarter lead blown and a lopsided third quarter cost them in a three-point loss at Target Center, two occurrences that have become themes for their season.
On Wednesday, the Wolves led by 15 points late in the first quarter and trailed by 10 with 3:49 left in the game. But they ultimately didn’t have quite enough of either ‘D’ word Karl-Anthony Towns used afterward — determination and desperation — to overtake the Nuggets.
Towns delivered his first career triple-double — 15 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists — and the Wolves used a late 12-2 run to tie the score at 103 with 58.3 seconds left before Danilo Gallinari’s spinning, banked shot with 27 seconds remaining held up as the winner.
“We played like our lives were on the line, that’s really all we did,” Towns said. “We played with such energy and intensity and sense of — I don’t know how to say it — just a sense of determination that we wanted to come out with a ‘W.’
“Desperation, we played with a lot of desperation those last minutes.”
Not quite enough to overcome that early lost double-digit lead for a 10th time this season, not quite enough to overcome a 59-42 deficit over the middle two quarters and not enough to overcome Gallinari’s clutch shot.
“I asked him to call ‘bank,’ ” Denver coach Mike Malone said, “and he didn’t.”
Afterward, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau praised Towns for his vision and playmaking after the Nuggets sent two or three defenders at him. But Thibodeau also lamented his team’s many defensive breakdowns, particularly late in the game, and called them frustrating.
“But the Gallinari shot, you live with,” Thibodeau said. “It was defended well. He banks it in. You tip your hat to that, but some of the other stuff, we have to get better in a lot of areas.”
There were defensive breakdowns, and there were Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins’ three missed free throws in the game’s final 90 seconds.
Towns helped him out by tipping in the second of Wiggins’ two missed free throws with 1:29 left.
When Wiggins missed the first of two more free throws and made the second one, the score was tied at 103 with 58 seconds left.
“They were crucial,” Wiggins said of his missed free throws. “I just didn’t make them.”
After Gallinari banked in his shot, Wiggins drove for the tying basket. But Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler blocked the shot from behind with 8.8 seconds left.
Asked afterward if there was contact on the play, Wiggins said, “I don’t know. My adrenaline was rushing. If there was, I didn’t feel it.”
Denver guard Gary Harris whipped the loose ball deep into the backcourt as he was falling out of bounds.
Wolves guard Zach LaVine fetched it with six seconds left and moved quickly upcourt. His pull-up, 26-foot three-point attempt missed in the final two seconds.
“I knew it was online, but I knew it was short, like everything was short [Wednesday],” LaVine said after a 7-for-17 shooting night. “I didn’t get my full range into it.”
Inevitably, the Wolves couldn’t summon quite enough determination or desperation to avoid their 22nd loss in 32 games this season.
Towns was asked afterward how the Wolves might find some of both earlier in games and for longer than they did Wednesday.
“That’s up to us, I’ve got to find it myself,” Towns said. “I’ve got to be like [Oklahoma City guard] Russell Westbrook, who’s a 48- minute player.”