Nuggets crunch Timberwolves, 117-90

Published 2:09 am Saturday, May 11, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Denver Nuggets were simply too determined, too experienced, too proud and too talented to let their flop in the first two games define this series against the surging Minnesota Timberwolves.

This is what defending NBA champions do — quiet a raucous crowd, embrace the boos and take the momentum right back.

Jamal Murray rebounded from a rough start to the Western Conference semifinals with 24 points to lead the Nuggets on a 117-90 romp Friday night in Game 3 that made the Timberwolves the last team in the NBA to lose this postseason.

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“It honestly just kind of makes you better because you have to respond,” said Murray, who was roundly booed each time he touched the ball. “It just makes you have to lock in and be there for your teammates.”

Nikola Jokic, the three-time league MVP, had 24 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, Michael Porter Jr. scored 21 points and the Nuggets sliced Minnesota’s series lead to 2-1 on the strength of their 14-for-29 shooting from 3-point range.

Anthony Edwards had a quiet 19 points to lead the Wolves, who went just 10 for 32 from deep even with a 4-for-5 effort from Karl-Anthony Towns. They failed to get Towns (14 points) enough shots and played slower than they did in the first two games in Denver while falling behind by as many as 34 points.

“I’ll take the blame for this loss. I came out with no energy at all. I can’t afford to do that for my team. I let my team down, coaches down, fans down,” Edwards said. “I’ll be ready Sunday.”

The Nuggets became the 30th team in the history of the NBA playoffs to lose the first two games at home in a best-of-seven series. Five have rallied to win.

“You’re always testing and finding out about human nature and what guys are made of,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said.

This was the step forward Denver badly needed, breaking the 100-point barrier for the first time in three games against Minnesota’s NBA-best defense.

“Everything was sharp. Everything was fast,” Jokic said.

Murray, who totaled just 25 points on 9-for-32 shooting with a minus-38 rating over the first two games, drew a $100,000 fine from the NBA for chucking a heat pack onto the floor from the bench.

The stone-faced point guard thrived on a mix of spot-up jumpers and fadeaways set up by dribble-handoffs, clearly with more spring in his step after three days to rest the strained left calf muscle that has hampered him over the last few weeks. Jokic and Aaron Gordon helped initiate the offense, alleviating the ball-handling load on Murray.

“His teammates freed him up, but he was aggressive and saw the ball go in early,” Malone said. “I think he does kind of relish those moments where he’s the bad guy.”

The defending champions not only brought the energy they promised would return after their no-show at home, but they hit enough of their shots to help keep the Wolves and their active rotations honest. The whistles tightened and Wolves defensive ace Jaden McDaniels was limited by foul trouble.

After sweeping Phoenix and dominating Denver in the first two games, the Wolves received their first reality check after their head-turning Game 2 dominance in Denver. The “Wolves in 4!” chant that erupted right before the opening tip was quickly ditched.

The Nuggets controlled the noise by creeping to a 28-20 edge after the first quarter, their largest lead of the series to date, and they didn’t stop there. They were up by 20 points late in the second quarter.

The Wolves got NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert back after he missed Game 2 for the birth of his son, but the Nuggets zipped the ball around so well outside of the paint so well that his long arms were largely a nonfactor.

Gordon swished back-to-back 3-pointers and Porter hit one on the next possession midway through the third quarter to make it 72-50 and thwart another mini-Wolves rally.

By early in the fourth, fans began to file out of their seats. Frustrated by the accumulation of calls against them on the night, Wolves reserves Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kyle Anderson each were slapped with technical fouls during a timeout with 5:54 left for arguing with the officials.

“We earned the right to be talked about, but at the end of the day, we knew they were going to try and make it a series,” Alexander-Walker said.