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

Nuggets-Timberwolves: 5 takeaways from Denver's hot-shooting Game 4 win

Aaron Gordon is nearly perfect, Karl-Anthony Towns hardly so and Denver and Minnesota find themselves tied 2-2.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are clicking again, Aaron Gordon can't miss and the Wolves waste another big game from Anthony Edwards.

• Download the NBA App

MINNEAPOLIS — Denver dropped the first two games of this series, both at home — the second one emphatically — putting itself in a precarious position that generated uninvited discussions of doom.

To paraphrase Rudy Tomjanovich: Never underestimate the start of a champion.

This Western Conference semifinal went from a 2-0 deficit to tied 2-2, and maybe the Nuggets just reclaimed the advantage. There’s a sense of rebirth for Denver, for a team that was staggered, then regrouped and resolved their issues and maybe just unlocked the complex code of the relentless Timberwolves’ defense.

In two games in Minnesota, the Nuggets shot 54% overall and 48% from on 3-pointers in Game 3, then 57% and 45% on Sunday night in Game 4.

“This team has been tested time and time again,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, “and we found a way to solve whatever’s been thrown at us.”

To paraphrase another philosopher, Ernest Hemingway: Minnesota’s momentum in this series vaporized gradually, then suddenly, in a span of two losses in three days.

The Nuggets used Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, a near-flawless night from Aaron Gordon and a crazy sequence to end the first half to draw even in the series and raise a question: Will a home team ever win a game?

Here are five takeaways from the Nuggets’ 115-107 Game 4 victory.

1. Gordon was the picture of (almost) perfection

Malone said Gordon was the MVP of the game, and if put to a vote, it would be unanimous. Gordon was that good, in every phase.

First, his defense — especially when matched up with Karl-Anthony Towns — was critical.

Second, he helped bring the ball across midcourt, a strategy to prevent the Wolves from constantly hounding Murray for 94 feet.

Third, he shot 11-for-12 and started 10-for-10, mainly on jumpers that forced the Wolves to stretch their defense and think twice before doubling Jokic.

“We don’t win without him,” Malone said. “The offense, shotmaking, the playmaking, physicality, the defense on two All-Stars. So much is being asked of him right now. Truly selfless. I’m really proud of Aaron’s play and how it’s directly impacted us tying this series up.”

As for being selfless, Gordon had an easy and quick explanation for that, nodding to Jokic:

“If a three-time MVP can do it, I can do it, too.”

2. Murray owns Minnesota

He was booed from the time the Nuggets’ team plane landed in town, booed at introductions, booed when he touched the ball and booed just for the heck of it.

All the hostility stemming from Murray’s behavior in Game 2, when he tossed a heat pack and a towel on the floor — and wasn’t suspended by the league for it — meant little in the end. Because, as Murray later admitted: “I feed off that.”

So he left town stuffed because he figuratively ate the Wolves up in both Target Center games. From 24 points in Game 3 to 19 in Game 4 — punctuated by his half-court shot right before the halftime buzzer — Murray made amends, at least to his team, for the Game 2 antics.

Speaking of antics: Right before the final buzzer Sunday, he had an exchange with Edwards, who tends to brash talk himself. And Edwards took notes.

“I just told his ass we love that,” Edwards said. “Keep talking … that’s what we like.”

3. A flurry to end the first half

This Game 4 changed as quickly as the series — a manic final minute of the first half erased any comeback dreams the Wolves might’ve had.

“Sick” is how Gordon described how it ended. “Just crazy.”

At that 48-second mark, Edwards, who blowtorched the Nuggets through much of the half — where he had 23 of his 44 points — dropped a 3-pointer to bring the Wolves within seven. It stood as a rallying moment … until it didn’t.

Denver’s response was swift. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope swished a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left. Something was brewing.

Then, in the last 10 seconds, Edwards lost control of the ball, Jokic grabbed it and threw it downcourt to Michael Porter Jr. for the dunk. Again — most big men lack the court vision and touch for that toss.

Minnesota’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker then threw the inbounds pass beyond Jaden McDaniels. Murray scooped the ball and heaved it without a dribble.

Bucket, then Nuggets’ bedlam.

So, to recap: The Wolves went from a seven-point deficit and momentum to 15 points and deflation. The halftime walk to the locker room felt like a mile. They never generated much of a threat for the rest of the game.

“Really important stretch,” Jokic said. “Big, big stretch. It took them out of the game. And it’s easier to play when you’re up that much.”

4. KAT couldn’t land on his feet

It was a frustrating and, at times, invisible experience for Towns, who shot poorly and couldn’t contain Jokic. Otherwise, everything went swell.

The game screamed for someone on the Wolves to give Edwards a breather and some help offensively, and the plea went straight to Towns, the most qualified on a team that isn’t especially flush with scorers.

But Towns was 5-for-18 and mostly came up empty in the first half, when the game quickly unraveled for the Wolves.

Meanwhile, Jokic dropped 35 points on him and Kia Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, making it a tough night for Towns at both ends. But those misfirings cost the Wolves on a night when their spotty defense needed some offense to bail it out.

“He rushed a lot of things,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “The physicality of the game got him off his spots.”

5. Nuggets’ depth is … a strength?

Finally, a few words of positivity about the Denver bench. After being weakened by offseason defections, this crew made the most of its minutes and, dare we say, out-performed its counterpart.

Who knew the Nuggets’ bench would own the upper hand over the Wolves and their Kia Sixth Man of the Year, Naz Reid?

Reggie Jackson spelled Murray in relief and wasn’t a liability. Justin Holiday spoiled more than a few Wolves’ runs with timely 3-pointers. Christian Braun helped provide defense on Edwards and saved energy for the offense.

Denver’s bench scored 27 points, helped by 6-for-9 shooting from deep. And they were 8-for-12 from the floor in Game 3. So the Nuggets left Minneapolis flush with the knowledge that its collective fueled this 2-0 road showing.

“We have a group that is acting the way you hope a championship team would act,” said Malone.

* * *

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.