Pacers, Nuggets looking to even conference semifinals following key Game 3 victories

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets accomplished one goal Friday night.

They fought their way back into the conference semifinals by avoiding the dreaded 3-0 deficits. Now comes the harder part — getting even.

After earning key wins in very different ways, the Pacers and Nuggets return to the court Sunday for pivotal Game 4 matchups against the bruised New York Knicks and the strong Minnesota Timberwolves.

“We understood our backs were against the wall, we're here at home,” All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton said after scoring a playoff career high 35 points in Friday's 111-106 victory that got Indiana within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. “Obviously they handled their business, winning both games at home and everybody knows what it looks like if you go down 3-0. So we had to come out and play desperate, play hard.”

Denver, the defending champs, followed a similar mantra — and a changed game plan.

While the Pacers rallied from a nine-point deficit over the final 10 minutes and needed a 31-foot, shot-clock beating 3-pointer from Andrew Nembhard with 16 seconds to go and got a defensive stop and two late free throws to seal its fourth straight postseason home win, the defending champion Nuggets rolled in Minnesota after losing their first two in Denver.

Behind 24 points from Jamal Murray and a near triple-double from three-time MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets opened up an early 20-point lead and never looked back, ending the Timberwolves' six-game postseason winning streak. Now, they'll try to do it all over again.

“I think (Friday) showed what we’re capable of and how dangerous we can be,” Denver coach Mike Malone said following the 117-90 blowout.

The big question now: What's next?

Murray, who was booed relentlessly in Game 3, expects Minnesota fans to create an even louder, more hostile environment Sunday. He also anticipates the Timberwolves will respond by amping up their play in hopes of keeping the advantage it seized with two road wins.

“I think they’re going to be super aggressive and more desperate than they were (in Game 3)," Murray said. "That’s what the playoffs are for. It’s a lot of fun. Every team is throwing punches back and forth. You’ve got to make adjustments and you’ve got to bring the right energy every day.”

Indiana believes it can continue to benefit from the energy of a home crowd that has spurred it to a perfect home mark this postseason.

But the Knicks have more substantial concerns.

All-Star guard Jalen Brunson played through an injured right foot Friday and finished with 26 points, his lowest scoring total since Game 2 of New York's six-game series win over Philadelphia in the first round. He's still averaging a league-high 34.6 points in the postseason and did not appear on Saturday's official injury report.

Forward OG Anunoby will miss his second straight game since leaving Game 2 early because of an injured left hamstring. The Knicks already had ruled out three other key players with injuries — forwards Bojan Bogdanovic (left foot surgery) and Julius Randle (right shoulder surgery) and center Mitchell Robinson (left ankle).

And yet if a couple of calls — or Brunson's off-balance 3-pointer with 13 seconds to go — went New York's way, the Knicks could have spent Sunday trying to wrap up their first trip the Eastern Conference finals since a 4-2 loss to the Pacers in 2000. Instead, they're trying to win the first road game by either team in this series.

“From my vantage point, I thought those calls could have gone our way. But I'm not going to comment until I look at the film,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said Friday. “But you know, we've just got to find a way to win. That's the bottom line.”

And Indiana, Denver and Minnesota all want to follow the same script.


Minnesota leads 2-1. Game 3, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: After losing Game 1 and not showing up for Game 2 in Denver, the defending champs took advantage of a three-day break to rest, revise and re-energize. The result: Murray rebounded from a 3-for-18 shooting effort and drawing a $100,000 fine for tossing a heat pack onto the court with a winning effort in Game 3. The Nuggets also played with more energy, cranked up the defensive pressure and served notice to the Timberwolves they're not going away.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Aaron Gordon. Denver's veteran forward not only alleviated some of the ballhandling pressure on Murray by helping to run the offense, he also made three 3s in the third quarter Friday to end any chance of a Minnesota comeback. Gordon is shooting 17 of 27 in the series.

— INJURY WATCH: Murray has been playing with a strained left calf, but said he felt as good going into Game 3 as he had since first suffering the injury. He said the hamstring tightened up on him near the end of Friday' game and is listed as questionable. “At this point in the season, everybody’s dealing with something,” he said.

PRESSURE IS ON: Anthony Edwards. The Timberwolves star, who has been the subject of Michael Jordan comparisons throughout the NBA playoffs, had his quietest postseason game with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting and a game-high five turnovers.


AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis also contributed to this report.