DENVER – George Karl was in a foul mood after his team squandered a 24-point lead and nearly the game against a Minnesota Timberwolves squad playing much of the contest without its star player.
"Worst win of the year," the Denver Nuggets coach proclaimed.
Hey, it sure beat the alternative.
Ty Lawson scored 24 points, including four free throws in the final 17.6 seconds, to help the Nuggets hold on for a 113-107 win Wednesday night over the Timberwolves, who lost All-Star forward Kevin Love to a mild concussion in the first quarter.
"I'm happy that we won but I'm not very happy with the way we won," Karl said. "It was a very disappointing win."
But there are no style points for victories and the Nuggets need all they can accumulate to remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
So, Lawson won't make any apologies for how his team won.
"Listen, right now we'll take a bad win," Lawson said. "As long as it's in the win column, it's good. I know Coach is mad because we were up 24. It shows we're immature."
Took the words right out of Karl's mouth.
"There's an immaturity to how we finish games off," Karl said. "There's an immaturity to how we play with leads.
"Fortunately, we figured out how to win it. It wasn't very pretty."
Up by as many as 24 points, Denver saw the Timberwolves steadily climb back into the game, even tying it late in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Martell Webster.
All this without their best player on the floor, too.
Love sustained a head injury early in the game after taking an inadvertent elbow from JaVale McGee when the Nuggets center went up for a jumper. Love had missed all five of his shots before being knocked out of the game.
He was going to be kept overnight at an area hospital for precautionary reasons.
"It was pretty bad, but hopefully he will be all right," said guard J.J. Barea, who had a career-high 15 assists. "As soon as he got hit, I knew that he was out. He was talking, but he wasn't all there, though."
Minnesota was trailing by three when Love went crashing to the court. With the UCLA product sidelined, Denver went on a 42-21 run to open up a sizable gap.
That looked to be game, set and match.
Only, the Timberwolves came roaring back, tying the game on Webster's 3-pointer with 1:41 left.
But Lawson secured the win at the line by draining four free throws to turn away the banged-up Timberwolves, who were also without Luke Ridnour (ankle).
"We dug ourselves too big of a hole," said Derrick Williams, who finished with 27 points. "You don't want to go down that path."
As for Love, well, there was a certain shock factor after he went down.
"Kevin is our go-to guy," Williams said. "But I always say, injuries create opportunities for everybody else and people have to step up when their name is called."
Williams certainly answered the call. So did Anthony Randolph, who led the team with 28 points to pick up the slack for the Timberwolves, who have dropped seven straight.
"One name — Anthony Randolph," Barea said. He did it all."
Rookie Kenneth Faried turned in another strong performance, as he finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. This was on the heels of a 27-point, 17-rebound effort against Golden State two nights ago. The high-energy forward was just as difficult to contain for the Timberwolves, especially after Love went down.
Early in the opening quarter, Faried was shaken up when Love gave him a hard shoulder to the chest as he flew down the lane after a rebound. Faried fell to the floor and had to be helped off, only to quickly return.
Top reserve and team leader Al Harrington was noticeably limping up and down the court as he tries to play through a torn meniscus in his right knee. Harrington saw only 22 minutes of action, but still had 11 points.
This is a banged-up Nuggets team that hasn't been healthy for most of the season. But they're steadily inching closer to having a full contingent. Wilson Chandler (strained hip) thinks he will be ready by at least Sunday, while Danilo Gallinari is just starting to regain his touch after breaking his left thumb last month.
Gallinari came up clutch against the Timberwolves, scoring seven of his 18 points in the final 4:17.
Still, it was a lot closer than Gallinari & Co. anticipated after such a big lead.
"There was a lot of intensity, but we cannot be very happy after this," Gallinari said. "This cannot happen again."
NOTES: Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman had a recent conversation with PG Ricky Rubio, who's out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. "He seems to be in real good spirits," Adelman said. ... Minnesota G Wayne Ellington (back spasms) didn't play. ... Nuggets G Arron Afflalo finished with 21 points.