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Timberwolves howl, beat Nuggets in OT to reach playoffs

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Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves
Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrate in the final minute of overtime against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday at Target Center in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves defeated the Nuggets 112-106.
Hannah Foslien | Getty Images

Remember 2004? It was that time before smartphones and Twitter.

And also the last time the Minnesota Timberwolves made it to the NBA playoffs.

Fourteen years of disappointment ended Wednesday night when the Wolves beat the Denver Nuggets 112-106 in overtime at the sold-out Target Center. 

Rewind for a moment to 2004. It was Kevin Garnett's team. Coming off an MVP-season where he averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game for the season, Garnett led his team to a franchise-record 58 wins and a top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

That Wolves didn't disappoint come playoff time either. The Wolves dismantled the Denver Nuggets 4-1 in the opening round, besting the Sacramento Kings at Target Center in Game 7 of the semifinals. They played well, until falling short in the Western Conference Finals against defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's been a long road back to a playoff berth. There's been nine coaching changes and voluminous attempts to find a franchise player, after Garnett departed for Boston in 2007.

First, it was Al Jefferson, who was later shipped off to Utah, then, Kevin Love, who forced his way out of Minnesota. Most recently, it was fan favorite Ricky Rubio, the marvel who never quite developed into the player many thought he would, after being selected No. 5 overall in the 2009 draft.

 Winning formula finally

But now it seems that the Wolves may have finally found a winning formula: The 7-foot unicorn, Karl-Anthony Towns; fourth-year guard/forward Andrew Wiggins; veteran guards Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford; reliable big man, Taj Gibson; hometown hero, Tyus Jones; the versatile Serbian, Nemanja Bjelica; and the new alpha wolf and perennial all-star, Jimmy Butler. The Wolves acquired Butler in a trade with the Chicago Bulls last summer.

The roster was on display Wednesday as the Wolves faced off against the Nuggets. The Nuggets had come off a six-game winning streak and were also one win away from ending a playoff drought of their own.

 Sold-out game, anxious fans

It was undoubtedly the biggest match of the year with a sold-out Target Center.

The Nuggets took an early lead, but the Wolves rallied and led the match until late in the fourth quarter. 

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves rebounds the ball against Gary Harris and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets.
Hannah Foslien | Getty Images

Nuggets starting center Nikola Jokic was a man in form, scoring 35 points to keep his team's playoff hopes alive. However, it was Nuggets sophomore point guard Jamal Murray who hit big shots after big shots, including the game-tying basket with two minutes remaining.

It seemed as if the Wolves would be defeated again, but Minnesota forward Taj Gibson had other plans. 

In the Nuggets' last possession of the game, Gibson stole the ball from Jokic and called a time-out with just 1.6 seconds left on the clock.

On the last possession of regulation, Wolves guard Jamal Crawford shot a 32-foot, 3-point jumper that would have won the game, but fell well short of the basket sending the game into overtime.

The Nuggets took an early lead, but the Wolves quickly pounced on a tired Nuggets team that could no longer buy a basket. Towns and Gibson defended and crashed the boards, while Butler and Wiggins iced the game with free throws.

Timberwolves fans stood up and exhaled when Wiggins extended the lead to 110-106, with 14.6 seconds remaining in overtime. 

Barring a big blunder, it seemed the game was finally theirs. 

Excitement filled the arena as white towels, bearing the Timberwolves slogan, #AllEyesNorth, waved throughout the Target Center. With just nine seconds left and against the background of escalating screams and MVP chants, Butler stepped up to the free throw line. He coolly knocked down a pair of free throws, clinching the game and ending the longest-running playoff drought in NBA history.

"I'll probably fall asleep tonight and wake up in the middle of the night and start crying," said Towns, who was 8 years old the last time the Wolves were in the playoffs. "It'll hit me, what happened."

 What's next for Minnesota? 

Minnesota can celebrate as much as it needs after the overtime thriller. But when the partying dies down, it's back to the hardwood to prep for a first-round matchup against the top team in the NBA with 65 wins: the Houston Rockets.

Breaking the playoff drought has rejuvenated a franchise that has been among the NBA's worst teams for over a decade. Unfortunately, a date with Houston, who beat the Wolves three times this season, is their reward.

Riding an MVP-worthy season from James Harden, sturdy leadership from the newcomer, Chris Paul, and a retooled bench, the Rockets have had an incredible season. 

The Rockets are the best three-point shooting team in the league, and the Wolves are among the worst three-point defending teams.

While having Towns and Butler will keep the Wolves competitive in this series, expecting the upstart Wolves to upset the Houston Rockets is a pipe dream. 

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves
Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrate after winning the game against the Denver Nuggets.
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Both Harden and Paul have struggled in the post-season, but things are different this year in Houston. The Rockets don't allow teams to keep up with them, they simply humiliate them, by running up the score.

 Prediction:  The Rockets will win the series 4-1. The Timberwolves' personnel doesn't match up well with the Rockets' positionless brand of basketball. Moreover, the Wolves' inability to guard the three-point line will lead to an early exit.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.