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Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves crush Nuggets to force Game 7 in second-round series

Bennett Durando, The Denver Post on

Published in Basketball

MINNEAPOLIS — After an exchange of blowouts that has lasted six games, there’s no telling what could happen in the seventh.

Jamal Murray’s shooting efficiency reverted to Game 2 form, Michael Porter Jr. was held to single-digit scoring for a third consecutive game, and the Nuggets were crushed, 115-70, by the Timberwolves in a potential close-out Game 6 on Thursday night. It set a new franchise low in playoff single-game scoring.

Anthony Edwards bounced back with 27 points and three steals. Jaden McDaniels supplied 21 points on 10 shots as Denver gave him the Aaron Gordon treatment, living with his shots. And the two Minnesota wings combined to quiet the Nuggets’ second and third options at the defensive end. Murray shot 4 for 18, totaling 10 points. Porter scored eight on 3-of-9 shooting.

Nikola Jokic’s 22 points weren’t enough to overcome the lack of supporting offense. He only registered two assists, matching a season-low (at Minnesota in March).

The series finale Sunday at Ball Arena will be the Nuggets’ first elimination game since April 27, 2022, against Golden State. It will be their first Game 7 since the bubble in 2020. They are 3-1 in Game 7s in the Jokic era, which spans five consecutive playoff appearances before this year. The only time the Nuggets have lost a series that they led in Jokic’s career was the second round against Portland in 2019, when they blew a 3-2 lead.

Denver coach Michael Malone’s focus is usually defense-first during his pregame news conferences when he’s asked about the keys to winning any given matchup. The Timberwolves’ imposing defense has made this series an anomaly in that regard. Snuffing Minnesota’s miniature runs before they could inflate beyond the realm of recovery was a strength for the Nuggets in Games 3 and 4. What would it take to sustain that success and keep the crowd out of it Thursday night?

“Our offense,” Malone said before Game 6. “If we play a clean game, that limits their transition. That keeps Anthony Edwards out of the paint. … I think if you want to keep the crowd out of it and give your defense a chance, you have to make sure you have a clean game offensively. They’ve shown time and time again, they can turn you over in a hurry. They can block shots. And that converts into easy points in transition. Highlight dunks. And that’s when this place will just erupt.”

 

His comment was prescient. The cleanliness of Denver’s game reached its limit after about three minutes, when Chris Finch called a timeout trailing 9-2. The Nuggets didn’t score for the next 5:45, missing seven consecutive shots and turning it over four times during a 27-2 haymaker. Target Center regained life early in that run when Murray brought the ball up and was pressured by Edwards and McDaniels. In an image eerily reminiscent of the first two games, they forced a turnover and an easy highlight dunk for Edwards.

The Nuggets were out-rebounded 19-10 in the first quarter, while getting outscored 18-6 in the paint and 9-0 on fast breaks. They scored as many points in the frame (14) as Edwards.

In a desperate attempt to put a lid on top of the arena, Malone kept Jokic on the floor to start the second quarter, eschewing his regular substitution pattern. The Nuggets continued to build a tower of bricks on open 3-point looks, but they showed brief signs of life anyway by crashing the offensive glass and forcefully earning points. They clipped the deficit to 11, but eventually Jokic had to sit. Malone brought in Gordon at the backup five, and the Timberwolves immediately punished the second unit. The lead got back to 19 with Naz Reid scoring six unanswered.

The Nuggets’ bench, impressive for the first half of this series, did not score a point Thursday until the fourth quarter. Malone was done with his starters with more than eight minutes remaining.

His garbage-time substitutions provided Finch a convenient layer of bubble wrap for Edwards, who had stayed down for an extended period of time after a hard landing in the third quarter. The series flashed before Minnesota’s eyes while he appeared to cling to his hip, but he stayed in the game.


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