Denver convincingly takes down Minnesota again to even the series

The Timberwolves returned home from Denver this past week with a 2-0 series lead and all the momentum.

The conversation surrounding the Western Conference semifinals was not if the Timberwolves would knock out the defending-champion Nuggets, but when.

Many believed the series wouldn’t make it back to Denver for a Game 5.

Not only is it going back, but it’s returning to the Mile High City in a 2-2 deadlock after the Nuggets won both games in Minnesota in convincing fashion.

Denver won Game 4 115-107 on Sunday. Game 5 is on Tuesday in Denver at 9:30 p.m.

The Timberwolves head back to altitude in the same position the Nuggets were two games ago — staggering, with seemingly no answers.

Nikola Jokic has deciphered what Minnesota wants to do to him defensively. He finished Game 4 with 35 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He controlled every facet of the game. Aaron Gordon tallied 27 points. Justin Holiday and Christian Braun each scored in double figures off the bench.

As a team, Denver shot 57% from the floor and 45% from deep.

“I think they had a couple looks to get them comfortable, to the point they’re making tougher ones throughout the game. Everybody who came in, Justin Holiday, guys like that coming in and being able to knock down shots right away and get confidence,” Wolves guard Mike Conley said. “Jamal (Murray) is going to make shots like he does, make tough ones. (Michael) Porter is going to make tough ones. But we have to just try to weather those storms and not let it get to us too badly.

“I think we exert a lot of energy defensively, and when somebody makes a tough shot, it’s tough. Guys got to be able to move forward and execute on either end, which we just weren’t able to do.”

Anthony Edwards largely matched the MVP Jokic’s production, finishing with 44 points, but the Timberwolves had little else offensively.

Karl-Anthony Towns delivered his worst performance of the playoffs, finishing with 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting, while committing a number of questionable decisions.

“I just wanted to continue to take the shots I was given, continue to be aggressive, put pressure on the defense,” Towns said. “Things weren’t falling today, I’ll take responsibility for that. I put the work in. I feel good about the work I’ve put in, and it’s shining in these playoffs, obviously. It’s unfortunate on Mother’s Day I had a shooting performance like that, but it’s the way the game goes.”

But Towns didn’t commit the biggest head-scratcher of all. That came at the end of the first half on Sunday. The Wolves were outplayed over the first two quarters, but had trimmed the deficit to seven points in the final minute of the second quarter.

Denver then scored, and Minnesota committed consecutive turnovers in the final 20 seconds. The last of which was an ill-advised, half-court pass attempt from Nickeil Alexander-Walker that was picked off by Jamal Murray with 1.6 seconds left.

Murray then wiggled around Jaden McDaniels and fired off a half-court heave that found the bottom of the net. Minnesota was outscored 8-0 in the final 20 seconds of the frame to trail by 15 at the break.

“Yeah, that hurt. That hurt. We made a good run to get ourselves back in the game and got some momentum, put some juice in the building and then they did what the defending champs do,” Towns said. “They got eight points real quick and it definitely sent us to halftime with a bad taste in our mouth. So we just got to be better next time.”

Minnesota never seriously threatened Denver’s advantage from there. Every mini-run featured a prompt response from the Nuggets, who have regained home-court advantage in what’s now a best-of-three series.

The Timberwolves were largely dominant at home all season. They squeezed the life out of Phoenix in Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs in Round 1. The Target Center crowd rocked at the outset of each contest on Friday and Sunday.

But the noise never bothered the Nuggets, nor did the Wolves. Minnesota’s suffocating defense has seemingly been alleviated by a couple of key Denver adjustments. The Nuggets raised their level of physicality to match the Timberwolves, which then turned the game into an execution contest.

Denver is difficult to beat in that facet.

Minnesota will now head back to the drawing board in search of new answers, because the previous ones are no longer applicable.

“I don’t think anybody is overreacting right now,” Naz Reid said. “Nobody expected (this series) to go that easy or end that soon.”