The Denver Nuggets squander a 20-point advantage and face shooting woes as the Minnesota Timberwolves halt their title defense

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Anthony Edwards purseues the ball

The Denver Nuggets couldn’t stop an incredible second-half comeback by Minnesota or the noise coming from a lively Timberwolves locker room. It was a loud and painful reminder of the obvious — their time as champions was over, and much earlier than they anticipated.

The young and confident Timberwolves came into Denver’s arena and ruined the celebration by knocking out the Nuggets with a 98-90 victory Sunday night in Game 7 of their second-round series. Minnesota erased a 20-point deficit to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2004.

“No one ever said this was going to be easy trying to repeat,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

The Nuggets joined the list of the last five reigning champions who failed to make it to the conference finals in their attempt to win again. As Malone spoke after the game, the noise from the Timberwolves’ excited locker room celebration could be heard down the hallway.

Malone started off short in discussing the emotions after losing a game where they once led by 20 points. It’s the largest comeback in Game 7 history in the play-by-play era (1997-98), according to the NBA.

Tom Thibodeau looks at the game in the second half

“The season’s over. That’s what’s hard,” Malone said. Everything was going according to plan, too, with Jamal Murray hitting a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 58-38 early in the third quarter. The fans erupted, the building was loud, and the celebration appeared to be beginning.

But it didn’t rattle the Timberwolves, who methodically climbed back into the game. It was due to their swarming defense and their star player, Anthony Edwards, finding just enough offense — 16 points on 6-for-24 shooting — and help from his teammates.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaden McDaniels each scored 23 points, and Naz Reid came up big again in the fourth quarter. Really, though, it boiled down to not over-thinking things for the Timberwolves, who were held to 39.2% shooting from the floor but made up for it with a menacing defense that was the league’s best all season.

“We were trying to over-orchestrate match-ups and mismatches and all that sort of stuff and played right into their hands,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said.

“We just had to get back to moving the ball. Even when we were down, I kept looking at the field-goal percentage and we were in the 40s and 30s, and our defense was there. It went to a special place in that third quarter.”

Jamal Murray worked up after not getting a foul

They went on a 37-14 run to take a lead in the fourth quarter they wouldn’t relinquish. In that stretch, the Nuggets struggled from everywhere on the floor. Nothing was easy.

It was that sort of season-ending night. Murray, three-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, and Michael Porter Jr. were a combined 7 of 28 from 3-point range.

Porter, in particular, struggled all series as he finished 26 of 70 from the floor over the seven-game series after an outstanding showing against the Lakers in the first round. He had seven points Sunday.

“We just did not make enough shots in this series, Michael included, but he wasn’t the only one,” Malone said. Jokic had a simplistic explanation. “They played good defense,” he said. Malone echoed that thought, then threw in another.

“This feeling sucks,” he said. “That’s what I told our players — we go from training camp all the way through, and then it comes to an abrupt halt. That hurts.”

Karl Anthony reacts after given a foul

It might have been the toll of a tough season catching up to the Nuggets. They played until June to win their first NBA title, then dealt with injuries to Murray throughout the regular season and faced tough competition as the defending champions.

Towards the end, they couldn’t afford to rest players like they did the previous year because they aimed to secure the top seed in the West again. Despite tying a franchise record with 57 wins, they ended up as the No. 2 seed behind Oklahoma City due to a tiebreaker, while Minnesota dropped to No. 3.

This meant Game 7 was played in Denver on Sunday night, where Malone believed the home crowd would make a difference. The Wolves silenced both the Nuggets and their fans with their third win in Denver.

“it’s hard because the teams are hungrier, better talented than last year probably,” said Jokic, who had 34 points and 19 rebounds. “Everybody wants to beat us.”

Jokic took a realistic view on what it will take for the Nuggets to contend for another title. “Some teams never win a championship again,” Jokic said. “I’m just glad we had an opportunity this year. We will see.”


By Ritik

Ritik Katiyar is pursuing a post-graduate degree in Pharmaceutics. Currently, he lives in Srinagar, Uttarakhand, India. You can find him writing about all sorts of listicle topics. A pharmaceutical postgrad by day, and a content writer by night. You can write to him at [email protected]

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