NBA playoffs: Timberwolves swarm Nuggets to take commanding 2-0 series lead over champs

The Minnesota Timberwolves played Monday without Defensive Player of the Year finalist Rudy Gobert.

It didn’t matter.

The Timberwolves put down the Denver Nuggets in the first game and won a resounding 106-80 victory. The point total marked a season low for Denver and for the second time in two playoff games, the Timberwolves held the Nuggets below 100 points.

With the win, Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the series with two road victories against the defending NBA champions.

Barring significant adjustments in Games 3 and 4, the champions could have played their final home game of the season. The Timberwolves have been the better team through two games by an overwhelming margin and return to Minnesota with a chance to close out the series at home.

That’s on top of a stunning first two conference semifinal games for a Nuggets team that has never trailed in a series and lost just four playoff games en route to the NBA title last season. There wasn’t a day Monday that looked like the home team was struggling to get things going against the NBA’s best defense.

Minnesota's defense overwhelmed Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets on Monday.  (Matthieu Stockman/Getty Images)
Minnesota’s defense overwhelmed Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets on Monday. (Matthieu Stockman/Getty Images)

Minnesota picked up Monday where it left off after Friday’s 106-99 victory. The Timberwolves took a 28-20 lead in the first quarter, keeping Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. scoreless. Murray is hampered by a lingering calf injury suffered in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Timberwolves repeatedly exploited this vulnerability with pressure defense and traps that troubled the Nuggets point guard.

The effort was rewarded in the box score. At halftime, Murray remained scoreless and MVP favorite Nikola Jokić was held to eight points. The combined halftime point total of Denver’s top two scorers marked their lowest of the season.

On offense, Anthony Edwards continued to do his job. The star had 16 points in the first half following his 43-point outburst in Game 1. All-Star teammate Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 at the break as Denver failed to match Minnesota’s defensive intensity.

Minnesota outscored Denver 33-15 in the second quarter en route to a 61-35 halftime lead. The 26-point deficit was the largest at home in Nuggets playoff history.

There was no challenge from Denver after halftime. The Timberwolves extended their lead in the third quarter to 73-41, and the Nuggets never came within 19 points again.

With the Timberwolves leading 95-70 and Edwards at the free throw line, chants of MVP erupted for the budding Minnesota star. Home fans had begun to leave the Ball Arena. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone emptied his bench with more than three minutes remaining and the Timberwolves led 99-75.

Edwards again led the Timberwolves with 27 points along with seven assists, two rebounds and steals. He continued to attack the basket and score tough baskets that become his signature throughout these playoffs.

Towns shared the scoring lead with 27 points, 12 rebounds, a steal and two blocks.

Sixth Man of the Year Naz Reid took over Gobert’s role as rim protector with 14 points, four rebounds and four blocks in 29 minutes coming off the bench. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was tasked with applying pressure on the perimeter and had 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks coming off the bench. Four Timberwolves players had two interceptions each.

Aaron Gordon was Denver’s lone offensive bright spot with 20 points on an 8-of-14 shooting night. Jokić was the Nuggets’ only other starter in double figures with 16 points along with 16 rebounds and eight assists. He shot 5 of 13 from the field and recorded four turnovers, which marked an improvement from his seven turnovers in the opener.

Murray finished with eight points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals. He turned the ball over four times and shot 3 of 18 from the field. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts.

Denver has a decision to make before Game 3 on Friday if Murray doesn’t show significant improvement from his calf injury.

As a team, the Nuggets shot 34.9% from the field and 30% (9 of 30) from 3-point range. They committed 16 turnovers. The Timberwolves responded with a 50.6 percent effort from the field and a 39.4 percent (13-of-33) performance from beyond the arc.

Once again, the Timberwolves did all this without Gobert, who was home Monday morning for the birth of his child. He attempted to make it to Denver in time for Monday’s game, but weather complications meant he didn’t make it. He will likely be ready to return home for Game 3 with his Timberwolves holding a 2-0 series lead.

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