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DENVER – Even as he was praising his team for making it this far in a season-filled of adversity, Timberwolves President Tim Connelly offered an unintentional preview of what was to come Sunday night in his team's first playoff game against the Nuggets.

"We've got a long way to go before we're where this team is," Connelly said at Wolves shootaround.

Based on the result, that was underselling it. The Wolves looked lifeless and dispirited in a 109-80 bludgeoning at the hands of the Western Conference's top seed.

Denver blew the game wide open in a horrid 32-14 third quarter for the eighth-seeded Wolves, who had just about everything go wrong that could in a playoff game. After a roller-coaster week that featured two play-in games and plenty of travel, the Wolves looked like a team that needed to catch its breath literally and figuratively, something that's harder to do when playing in altitude.

"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 Wolves put on the floor Sunday would have been an eyesore.

"Way more physical than we were," coach Chris Finch said. "They played with more speed, more force, they kicked our butt in every category you that you possibly can imagine."

It was an especially rough night for Karl-Anthony Towns, who couldn't hit a shot in his worst game in a while. It continued a trend of Towns' inconsistent performances in playoff basketball. He shot just 5-for-15 for 11 points, with most of his buckets coming in fourth-quarter garbage time as Finch left him in for a bit to try and capture some sort of offensive rhythm.

Towns repeated a theme from the locker room after the game: The Wolves had to move on quickly from this and not dwell too much on it.

"Shot felt good, honestly. It felt good," Towns said. "It was one of those nights it just wasn't going. I took good shots, staying aggressive. … Move on, flush the game. I'm a hell of a shooter. I know that, believe that, know it. Proved it. So I just gotta go out there and just make the shots next game."

Rudy Gobert, who said his aching back was still bothering him, looked like a shadow of himself, and the Wolves offense couldn't function when Gobert and Towns shared the floor. Gobert had eight points and 13 rebounds.

"It's not great. Not great," Gobert said of his back. "But I knew tonight was going to be tough because after what I did the last game [Friday night's play-in rout of New Orleans]. We only had one day of traveling and coming back tonight and play, so I knew it was going to be tough. Next game will be better."

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

Denver hit 41% of its three-point attempts, with a lot of makes coming in transition. Gobert said the Wolves have to examine that area of their game.

"Just turn and run," Gobert said. "We don't have time to look at each other. We don't have time to look at the officials. We don't have time to wonder who we're guarding. We just got to sprint and then we can talk. But we got to turn, sprint and then we talk. If we do that, all individually, and put emphasis on that, I think we take away a lot of the easy things they have and I think they really feed off that."

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, going against the Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, didn’t have a monster performance Sunday night, but the two-time league MVP didn’t have to.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, going against the Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, didn’t have a monster performance Sunday night, but the two-time league MVP didn’t have to.

David Zalubowski, Associated Press

On the other end, some Wolves, such as Towns and Edwards, said the team's offensive game — they shot just 37% — was a product simply of missing shots. Point guard Mike Conley and Finch said their issues ran a little deeper than that.

"You can't put it on one thing," Conley said. "There were times where we just had guys take tough shots for no reason, bypass the easy play for a harder play, leading to tough situations, leading to turnovers."

It all culminated in that third quarter, when Denver ran the Wolves out of the gym.

Anderson released some pent-up frustration late in the third quarter when he got into a scuffle with Denver's Christian Braun, a confrontation that drew a flagrant-1 foul for Anderson, who let out what those who stayed up to watch the late tipoff must have been feeling.

"I was obviously a little frustrated," Anderson said. "We shook hands. It's all in competitive nature. I like his game. He's a good player."

Anderson has been in this situation before; so have Conley and Gobert. As opposed to last season's team, this year's Wolves squad has playoff experience from which to draw. They repeated the message that Sunday was only one game, and they were grateful that after a hectic week they have two days off before Game 2 in Denver on Wednesday night.

"You have to be prepared," Conley said. "You have to know their plays, you have to know all their tendencies ... and it's going to be a long series. We're not thinking this thing is a one-game show and that's how it's going to be. No, we're going to be ready to go.

"Might be a wake-up call for a lot of guys on our team."

The kind where you jolt awake sweating from a nightmare.