Saturday, June 15, 2024

Edwards leads Wolves back from 20-point deficit, beat defending champion Nuggets 98-90

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DENVER (AP) — Anthony Edwards overcame a slow start and the Timberwolves roared back from a 20-point second-half deficit to eliminate the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets 98-90 in a Game 7 Minnesota masterpiece on Sunday night.

The Timberwolves overcame a 15-point halftime deficit — the largest comeback in a Game 7 in NBA playoff history — behind Edwards, who had just four points, no rebounds and three assists at halftime but finished with 16 points, eight boards and seven assists.

His impact belied his 6-of-24 shooting that included a 2-for-10 3-point performance.

“It was tough, man, because I couldn’t find myself, my rhythm tonight,” Edwards said. “So I just had to trust my teammates. … I just had to make the right plays throughout the rest of the game. I did that and my teammates made shots. Big shout-out to those guys.”

As Minnesota took control late, over and over Edwards denied Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., who had 24 points by halftime and finished with 35.

“There’s more ways to win the basketball game when you’re just not an offensive player,” Edwards said. “I’m not one-dimensional. I’m not just a guy who can score. I’m a guy who — whoever their best guard is, I can go lock him down. I feel like I did that on Jamal in the fourth quarter — in the third quarter and fourth quarter — and that’s what turned the game around.”

As the seconds ticked away, Edwards dribbled the ball upcourt and took time to wave farewell to the stunned crowd at Ball Arena, where the Nuggets’ 33-8 record this season was second-best in the league but where the Wolves won three times this series.

The Wolves, who got 23 points each from Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaden McDaniels, advanced to the Western Conference final for the first time in exactly 20 years. They’ll face the Dallas Mavericks beginning Wednesday night at Target Center.

“It feels great,” Wolves centre Rudy Gobert said. “Beating a team like they are, an incredible team, a championship team, with the best player in the world, it feels good.

Behind Murray’s fantastic start, the Nuggets raced to a 53-38 halftime lead and Murray’s 3-pointer with 10:50 left in the third pushed Denver’s lead to 58-38.

The Wolves turned to their defence, the NBA’s stingiest, to get back into the game, and they closed the quarter on a 28-9 run to pull to 67-66 heading into the fourth.

Gobert gave the Wolves their first lead since the first quarter with a bucket to start the fourth and when Towns picked up his fifth foul, Naz Reid, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, was spectacular at both ends of the floor to keep Minnesota ahead.

In one crucial stretch that started with Minnesota ahead 85-82, Reid had two free throws and a dunk before feeding Edwards for a back-breaking 3-pointer that put the Wolves ahead 92-82 with three minutes left.

Murray, coming off a 4-for-18 shooting performance in the Nuggets’ 115-70 loss in Game 6 — the largest ever in the playoffs by a reigning champion — made 13 of 27 shots for 35 points. Jokic added 34 points to go with 19 rebounds but the duo got little help as no other Denver players reached double figures in points.

“So much was being placed on their shoulders,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re expecting Jokic and Jamal to continue pulling rabbits out of their hat, man, and somebody else has got to give some help.”

This marked the Timberwolves’ first Game 7 since beating Sacramento in the second round exactly 20 years earlier. That’s the only other time they reached the conference final. The Nuggets were playing in their fifth Game 7 in the last six seasons and were seeking their third trip to the conference finals in that span.

“That was a hell of a series,” Malone said. “They gave us all we could handle and they ended up winning Game 7 on our home court, which is a tough one to swallow. But we’ll be back.”

The Nuggets became the fifth consecutive defending champion to fail to reach the conference finals. The last one to do it was Golden State in 2019 when the Warriors reached the NBA Finals only to lose to Toronto.

“The one thing I keep on going back to right now is I consider the San Antonio Spurs a dynasty and they never won back-to-back,” Malone said.

“So losing, the hurt of it, the pain of it, it helped us win our first championship. Can we use this year?”

Murray thinks so.

“For sure,” he said. “It’s back to being the hunter.”

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press

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