Nikola Jokic had his seventh career postseason triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists for the Denver Nuggets, who held off the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-108 to take a 3-0 first-round lead NBA playoffs. Friday night.
Michael Porter Jr. had 25 points and nine rebounds, and Jamal Murray added 18 points and nine assists as Denver held off another dashing performance from Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards to send a raucous crowd of white-shirt-wearing fans back to home after another frustrating playoff loss.
Game 4 is here Sunday night.
Edwards scored 36 points to take his series total to 95, Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points after only 21 points in the first two games and Rudy Gobert had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Wolves, but a lapse defensive here and a rushing 3-pointer, there was enough to seal their fate against a well-rounded Nuggets team that is finally healthy enough for a run at the NBA Finals.
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Bruce Brown had 12 points to lead Denver’s 29-10 advantage in points from the bench, and the Nuggets shot a hard-to-beat 57% from the field.
With the Nuggets holding their first 2-0 lead in nine playoffs under Mike Malone, their message from the coach was to keep the throttle flat and not give the underdog Wolves any extra confidence.
The best team in the Western Conference complied by shooting like their seeding depended on it and outscoring Wolves for just about every long rebound. The Nuggets made two 9-0 runs in the first half and could do next to nothing wrong, starting the second quarter making 12 of their first 16 shots and building a 13-point lead.
Then Edwards, who had 41 points in Game 2 for the franchise playoff record, single-handedly brought Wolves back with the kind of starburst that only players like him are capable of.
After a lazy pass from Towns was caught by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Edwards scrambled for the block and quickly converted a Euro-step layup at the other end. Wolves kept their momentum going and cut the lead to 61-55 just before half-time. They were still within six points at the end of the third quarter.
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Wolves won their playoff game here a week ago by getting big on the backs of Towns and Gobert, the unlikely pair they created when former Nuggets basketball operations president Tim Connelly fled for the same job in Minnesota and swung a hit trade for Gobert.
Wolves attacked the basket better than they did in the first two games, and Towns drew Jokic’s fourth foul with 5:51 left in the third quarter, but the 7-foot Serbian is just too much skillful – and too loaded – to get beat up this way.
The reigning two-time NBA MVP led the league with 29 triple-doubles during the regular season.
Wolves manager Chris Finch, asked before the match about Jokic’s impact on creating space for Murray and his shot, took a subtle jab at how he feels about Jokic – who has 14 fouls in the series – is refereed.
“He does a really good job of scouting, and moving and scouting at the same time, that kind of stuff,” Finch said in his deadpan best.
During his introductory press conference last summer, Gobert shed some light on Finch’s allegations about his illegal scouting with Utah.
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Nuggets: Caldwell-Pope had 11 of his 14 points in the second quarter on 3-for-4 3-point shooting. Murray, who went 10 for 20 from deep in the first two games, was 1 for 6.
Timberwolves: Towns, who shot 8 for 27 from the field in the first two games, went 10 for 17. He’s 5 for 16 from 3-point range in the series. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was back in the starting lineup. He scored eight points in 22 minutes.