2024 Playoffs: West Semifinals | Nuggets (2) vs. Timberwolves (3)

Nuggets-Timberwolves: 5 takeaways from a stunning Game 1 upset

Anthony Edwards looks unstoppable in opener, Jamal Murray could be an issue and Minnesota is high on confidence.

2024 NBA Playoffs- Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets

Anthony Edwards carries the Timberwolves in Game 1 with a playoff career-high 43 points.

• Download the NBA App

There was a team that showed hunger from the opening tip, fought back after getting counterpunched, took control down the stretch and finished the job.

And that team wasn’t the defending NBA champions.

Instead, what the Timberwolves showed in the opening game of the Western Conference semifinals is this: They’re not afraid of the moment, the venue and especially the opponent.

Anthony Edwards and the Wolves seized control of the series with a firm 106-99 victory, putting the Nuggets in a position that is new to them since last post-season.

Here are five takeaways from Game 1 in which Minnesota snatched homecourt advantage from Denver:

1. Nuggets need an answer for Ant

Inside the NBA: Dirk Nowitzki thinks Anthony Edwards is 'the complete package'

This series, from the outset, was mainly about Nikola Jokic and devising a way to slow the big man because … well, because he’s a two-time Kia MVP and reigning Finals MVP.

But maybe the script has flipped to Edwards and if the Nuggets are capable of limiting him.

He dominated the first half by scoring 25 of his team’s 40 points, and then, after a sluggish third quarter, was a problem for Denver. After getting 43 points, Edwards now has the second-most 35-point playoff games in NBA history before turning 23, his six trailing Luka Doncic’s seven.

But Denver, one game into this series, is perhaps left scrambling for a strategy for Edwards, much like the Suns in the first round. He is too physical and strong for their smallish defenders (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and too fast-twitch for their taller ones (Michael Porter Jr. and anyone else).

Make no mistake — Edwards is trying to hike his basketball cred against another legendary player. First it was Kevin Durant; Edwards chopped up the Suns forward (whom he respects) and told him about it.

This time it’s Jokic, and while the Nuggets’ center isn’t guarding Edwards 1-on-1, he is sharing the court with him.

“Going against the best player in the world is always fun,” he said. “Going against the best team is always fun. I lost to these guys last year and they’re the defending champs … it’s going to be a fight.”

Well, if so, Edwards scored a first-game TKO.

2. Naz was nice

Once again you saw why Naz Reid won this year’s Kia Sixth Man Award. Once again he took over for Karl-Anthony Towns — who saw for a generous stretch in the fourth quarter with foul trouble — and the Wolves didn’t miss a beat.

Reid scored 14 points in the quarter, crucial for a team that isn’t terribly deep offensively. To put this in perspective, Reid averaged just under 10 points per game in the first-round sweep of the Suns.

But he is more than capable, an athletic big man who can shoot from deep, brings an improved mid-range shot and isn’t bashful about challenging players at the rim.

Counter to league orthodoxy, the Timberwolves roll out '3 legitimate bigs' in Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid.

When Towns missed nearly three weeks late in the season, Reid stepped in and not only played well, but kept the Wolves in the hunt for the top seed in the West. In this series, he’s bringing the best off-the-bench credentials, giving the Wolves a decided edge.

“He stayed patient,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of growth in Naz. He didn’t let nothing bother him. The game will come to you if you’re patient.”

3. Nuggets have a Murray worry

Is Jamal Murray fully good to go? Not in the availability sense — he suited up for Game 1 — but in terms of his health and body?

He didn’t practice after the first-round series with the Lakers, where he strained a calf muscle. And he didn’t score in the first half Saturday (first time in his playoff career), raising concern about his motor and energy not only for this game, but for the rest of this series.

Remember — there’s only one off-day between Games 1 and 2. He’ll get a stretch of comfort during the three off-days between 2 and 3. But if he struggles again, the Nuggets might find themselves in an 0-2 hole by then, with two games in Minneapolis.

That would be unfortunate for them and Murray. The good news is he played much better in the second half, where he was more active, scoring 17 points. Still, he must burn plenty of energy on the defensive end as well, trying to keep up with a quick guard like Conley, who had 14 points and 10 assists.

“We wanted to be as physical as we could with him, knowing we could throw three guys at him,” said Wolves assistant coach Micah Nori, who shared the bench duties with injured head coach Chris Finch. “Try to wear him down.”

4. Joker didn’t hurt Wolves

Inside the NBA: How Timberwolves defense 'sped up' Nikola Jokic

Jokic was a concern but not a problem in this game. He impacted only a handful of possessions and stretches but didn’t dominate the game, certainly not to the level of Edwards.

That’s a victory in and of itself for the Wolves, who can throw more size at Jokic than most teams, and one game into the series, it worked to a degree.

Minnesota started Towns on Jokic, who promptly got Towns into foul trouble. No problem for the Wolves — there was also Rudy Gobert and Reid, giving Jokic a different-looking defender, forcing the two-time MVP to adjust.

Jokic was asked how he might handle those different looks the rest of this series.

“To have a duplicate clone of myself,” he said.

Even better for the Wolves, Jokic rang up only nine assists, meaning he didn’t put as many teammates in their usual position to do damage. That was Minnesota’s strategy from the start — let Joker get his points, but not big points and not big assists.

And fddfdfJokic wasn’t very efficient when he did shoot, connecting on just 11-for-29 attempts.

5. Wolves bringing confidence

It’s not wise to make too much out of one game. A series can shift in a hurry; happens all the time.

This much is clear, though — the Wolves are up for the challenge. They aren’t intimidated, by Jokic or whatever the Nuggets did a year ago, when they beat the Wolves in the playoffs on the way to the championship.

It’s different now — Edwards, the Wolves’ commitment to defense, Minnesota’s bench (compared the Nuggets’ weakened bench), all that.

This team played on the road, dealt with Towns’ foul trouble, saw Conley and Reid step up in the second half, Edwards assume pole position as the most dangerous player and a scorching efficiency rate in the last two quarters.

“I know 71% in the second half is unacceptable,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone.

Minnesota isn’t likely to do that again. But the Wolves just let the Nuggets know they’re in for a fight.


Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.