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Nikola Jokic masterclass leads Denver to Game 5 win, 3-2 series lead over Timberwolves

DENVER — Trailing by six at half, Minnesota went on an 11-3 run to claim a two-point advantage early in the third frame of Game 5 on Tuesday. The table appeared to be set for a classic second half featuring two of the best teams in the NBA trading blows.

Then Nikola Jokic happened.

On the night when the Nuggets’ center was awarded his third MVP trophy at center court prior to opening tipoff, Jokic again proved himself worthy of the designation. With the game tied at 55-all, Denver proceeded to score on four consecutive possessions. Jokic assisted on every single bucket.

From there, he took over with his scoring. Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid, Kyle Anderson, Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert — it didn’t make a difference. No matter which bodies, nor how many, Minnesota threw at Jokic, he found a way to score.

In the third quarter alone, Jokic finished with 16 points, four assists and three rebounds to help Denver build a 14-point advantage.

For the night, the current best player in basketball tallied 40 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds to power the Nuggets to a 112-97 victory. Oh, and he didn’t commit a single turnover.

The Nuggets lead the Western Conference semifinals series 3-2. Game 6 is Thursday in Minneapolis.

“I mean, you saw it, he had an MVP, best-player-in-the-world performance,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “We tried to do a bit of everything on him. He had it all going. We didn’t have answers for him and honestly we haven’t had a great one the last couple of games.”

Indeed, Minnesota forced Jokic into seven turnovers in Game 1, and held him to 16 points in Game 2. He didn’t shoot 45 percent from the field in either contest.

But over the last three games, the big man is averaging 33 points, 9.7 assists and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 61 percent from the floor — all against the NBA’s best defensive unit.

“I just laugh. That’s all I can do. I can’t be mad, because he good, man,” Wolves guard Anthony Edwards said. “I think I said that after Game 1 when we won, and Game 2. He’s the MVP. He’s the best player in the NBA, he showed it the last three games, three games in a row. He did it tonight. He was special tonight. I got to give him his flowers. I don’t know what we were supposed to do. He was that guy tonight.”

Jokic, fittingly, delivered the dagger Tuesday, a triple over the outstretched arm of Gobert to put Denver up 14 with 3 minutes, 9 seconds to play as Minnesota was trying to mount a late charge. The big man hit an array of difficult shots in the second half, often with a Wolves’ defender draped all over him.

“He was in the zone. I mean, a couple shots that I think I actually blocked and the ball went in. It was just incredible in that (third) quarter,” Gobert said. “He put the team on his back and he was making everything. Drawing fouls, getting to the line. So, definitely, one of those stretches that we’re going to watch the film and I think there are things we should have done better, but there’s also plays he made that I think are tough to overcome.”

For the first time this season, the Timberwolves have lost three consecutive games. It couldn’t have come at a worse moment. Three games ago, the Wolves looked to be cruising into the West finals. Now, they’re facing elimination.

The offense has largely been to blame. It was especially anemic for much of Tuesday’s contest.

Without Mike Conley — who missed the game with a sore calf — Minnesota couldn’t find a consistent offensive rhythm. Denver consistently doubled Anthony Edwards, who was swarmed all evening, and also didn’t seem to have the same offensive burst he possessed in Game 4. Edwards finished with just 18 points on 5 for 15 shooting.

Towns appeared to tweak his knee in the first quarter in a collision with Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Towns briefly left the contest and hit the exercise bike before returning to action. He finished with 23 points and six rebounds.

The defending champion Nuggets tallied 60 points in the paint. They had 16 fast break points to Minnesota’s four.

The Wolves committed 14 turnovers that led to 18 Denver points. There was a stretch in the second quarter when Minnesota committed three consecutive charges on offense.

“(They) were kind of reckless and took us out of a great rhythm and put us in foul trouble or led us into foul trouble. You know, the easy kickouts were there on a lot of those plays. We just needed to keep making the simple play,” Finch said. “I think our offense let us down again.”

In all the ways you could be out-played, Minnesota was on Tuesday. It’s led for less than a minute total in the second half over the last three games.

The Wolves have one more chance to turn the tide back in their favor on Thursday. If they don’t, a team with championship aspirations will be done in Round 2.

“I’ve always said, even after Game 1, Game 2 we gotta continue to have a humble, disciplined approach to the game of basketball and play our brand of basketball regardless of what’s happening and continue to execute at a high level. Last three games we haven’t done that, and it’s cost us. Now we’re in a whole different situation than we were in about eight days ago, nine days ago. We’re in a whole different situation,” Towns said. “Adversity has been something we’ve answered all year. It’s something that if I was to go through this with anyone, I would go through it with these guys in this locker room.

“I have full confidence in these guys, i have full confidence in our locker room, I have confidence in our coaching staff. Everyone has been tremendous all year. It’s now time to put all that experience and that unity we’ve built throughout the whole year, even last year, and put it on the table and play our best basketball so we can give ourselves a chance to bring back Game 7 here (on Sunday).”

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