The Timberwolves fell asleep early, beating the Nuggets 109-80 in their playoff opener.

DENVER — While crediting the team for getting this far during a troubled season, Timberwolves president Tim Connelly offered an uncertain preview of what’s to come in his team’s first playoff game against the Nuggets on Sunday night.

“We’ve got a long way to go before we get to where this team is,” Connelly said of the Wolves shootout.

As a result, that was an undersell. The Wolves looked lifeless and fell apart in a 109-80 upset at the hands of the Western Conference’s top seed.

Denver put the game away with a brutal 32-14 third quarter to the 8th seed Wolves. After a roller-coaster week in which the Colts literally and figuratively lost their breath when playing at a high level, he played two games and featured several walks.

“I feel like we played a regular season game and it’s a playoff game,” forward Kyle Anderson said.

Even for a regular season game, what the Colts put on the floor Sunday was eye-popping.

“More physical than us,” coach Chris Finch said. “They played faster, with more energy. They beat us in every category you can imagine.”

It was a particularly rough night for Karl-Anthony Towns, who was unable to hit a shot after a few moments of poor play. Towns’ inconsistent performances in playoff basketball continued the trend. He shot just 5-for-15 for 11 points, with most of his buckets coming in fourth-quarter garbage time when Finch gave up a little to get some kind of offensive shot.

Towns repeated a theme from the locker room after the game: The Wolves should have gone faster than that, and they’ve been too focused on it.

“The shot felt good,” Towns said. “It was one of those nights where it just doesn’t go away.” I took good shots, was aggressive… move, clean up the game. I’m a hell of a shooter. I know that, I believe that, I know it. Confirmed. So I just have to go out there and make the next play.

Rudy Gobert, who says his back is hurting him, looks like a shadow of his former self, and the Wolves’ offense can’t function when Gobert and Towns share the floor. Gobert had eight points and 13 rebounds.

“Not great. Not great,” Gobert said of his back. But I knew tonight was going to be tough because after I played the last game [Friday night’s play-in rout of New Orleans]. We only had one day to travel and come back tonight to play so I knew it was going to be tough. The next game will be better.

Anthony Edwards shot just 6-for-15 for 18 points. That happened on a night when the Wolves did a solid job of limiting two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, who had 13 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists. Jamal Murray led Denver with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight rebounds.

Denver, hitting 41 percent of its three-point attempts, made plenty of attempts in transition. Gobert said the Wolves need to explore that play area.

“Turn around and run,” Gobert said. But we must turn, run, and then talk. If we do all that individually and focus on that, I think we’re going to take away a lot of the simple things that they have, and I think they’re really going to feed off of that.

On the other hand, some of the Wolves, like Towns and Edwards, attributed the team’s poor offensive play — shooting just 37% — to simply a lack of shooting. Point guard Mike Conley and Finch said their case goes a little further than that.

“You can’t put it on one thing,” Conley said. “There were times when guys would shoot tough shots for no reason, pass up easy plays for tough plays, lead to tough situations, lead to turnovers.”

It all ended in the third quarter when Denver knocked the Wolves out of the gym.

Anderson let out some frustration late in the third quarter when he got into a scuffle with Denver’s Christian Brown. It was being heard.

“Obviously I was a little upset,” Anderson said. “Shakes hands. It’s all competitive nature. I love the game. He’s a good player.”

Anderson has been in this situation before; So did Conley and Gobert. Unlike last season’s squad, this year’s Wolves squad has playoff experience. They reiterated their message that Sunday is just one game, and after a tough week, they were grateful to get two days off in Game 2 at Denver on Wednesday night.

“You have to be ready,” Conley said. “You’ve got to know their players, you’ve got to know all their tendencies … and it’s going to be a long series. We don’t think it’s going to be a one-game show. No. We’ll be ready to go.

“It could be a wake-up call for a lot of guys on our team.”

The kind where you wake up sweating from a nightmare.


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