MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Nikola Jokic had his seventh career triple-double in the playoffs with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists for the Denver Nuggets, who fended off the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-111 to take a 3-0 lead in the first-round NBA playoff series Friday night.
Michael Porter Jr. had 25 points and nine rebounds and Jamal Murray added 18 points and nine assists as Denver withstood another dashing performance by Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards to send a loud crowd of white-shirt-wearing fans home from another frustrating postseason loss.
Game 4 is here Sunday night.
Edwards scored 36 points to raise his series total to 95, Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points after totaling only 21 points over the first two games and Rudy Gobert had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolves, but a defensive lapse here and a rushed 3-pointer there was enough to seal their fate against a well-rounded Nuggets team that’s finally healthy enough for a run at the NBA finals.
Bruce Brown had 12 points to lead Denver’s 29-10 edge in bench points, and the Nuggets shot a hard-to-beat 57% from the field.
With the Nuggets holding their first 2-0 lead in nine playoff series under Mike Malone, their message from the coach was to keep the throttle on full and not give the underdog Wolves extra confidence.
The Western Conference’s top team complied by shooting like its seeding depended on it and outjumping the Wolves for just about every long rebound. The Nuggets had two 9-0 runs in the first half and could hardly do anything wrong, starting the second quarter by making 12 of their first 16 shots and building a 13-point lead.
Then Edwards, who had 41 points in Game 2 for the franchise playoffs record, single-handedly brought the Wolves back with the kind of starburst only players like him are capable of.
After a lazy pass by Towns was picked off by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Edwards hustled for the block and quickly converted a Euro-step layup on the other end. The Wolves kept up the momentum and cut the lead to 61-55 right before halftime. They were still within six points at the end of the third quarter.
The Wolves won their play-in game here a week ago by going big on the backs of Towns and Gobert, the unlikely pairing they created when former Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly bolted for the same job in Minnesota and swung a blockbuster trade for Gobert.
The Wolves attacked the basket better than they did in the first two games, and Towns drew Jokic’s fourth foul with 5:51 left in the third quarter, but the 7-foot Serb is just too skilled – and too much of a load – to get beat that way.
The two-time reigning NBA MVP led the league with 29 triple-doubles during the regular season.
Wolves coach Chris Finch, asked before the game about Jokic’s impact on making space for Murray and his shot, took a subtle swipe at how he feels Jokic – who has 14 fouls in the series – is officiated.
“He does a really good job of screening, and moving and screening at the same time, those types of things,” Finch said in his best deadpan.
Gobert made light at his introductory news conference last summer of Finch’s allegations of his illegal screening with Utah.
Nuggets: Caldwell-Pope had 11 of his 14 points in the second quarter on 3-for-4 shooting from 3-point range. … Murray, who went 10 for 20 from deep in the first two games, was 1 for 6.
Timberwolves: Towns, who shot 8 for 27 from the field in the first two games, went 10 for 17. He’s 5 for 16 from 3-point range in the series. … Nickeil Alexander-Walker was back in the starting lineup. He had eight points in 22 minutes.