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NBA playoffs: Timberwolves swarm Nuggets to take commanding 2-0 series lead over champs

NBA playoffs: Timberwolves swarm Nuggets to take commanding 2-0 series lead over champs

The Minnesota Timberwolves played Monday without Defensive Player of the Year finalist Rudy Gobert.

It did not matter.

The Timberwolves clamped down on the Denver Nuggets from the opening tip and cruised to a 106-80 blowout win. The point total marked the lowest of the season for Denver and the second time in two playoff games the Timberwolves held the Nuggets below 100 points.

With the victory, Minnesota took a commanding 2-0 series lead with a pair of road wins over the reigning NBA champions.

Barring significant adjustments in Games 3 and 4, the champs could have just played their last home game of the season. The Timberwolves have been the better team through two games by an overwhelming margin and return to Minnesota with a chance to close the series out at home.

It adds up to a stunning first two games of the conference semifinals from a Nuggets team that never trailed in a series and lost just four playoff games en route to last season's NBA title. There was little Monday that resembled a title contender from the home team that struggled to get anything going against the NBA's best defense.

Minnesota’s defense overwhelmed Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets on Monday. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Minnesota picked up Monday where it left off from Friday's 106-99 victory. The Timberwolves jumped out to a 28-20 first-quarter lead, holding Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. scoreless in the process. Murray is hobbled by a lingering calf injury suffered in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Timberwolves repeatedly seized on that vulnerability with pressure defense and traps that flustered the Nuggets point guard.

The effort was rewarded in the box score. At halftime, Murray remained scoreless, and MVP favorite Nikola Jokić was limited to eight points. The combined halftime point total from Denver's top two scorers marked their lowest of the season.

On offense, Anthony Edwards continued to do his thing. The breakout star tallied 16 first-half points on the heels of his 43-point outburst in Game 1. His All-Star teammate Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 at the break as Denver failed to match Minnesota's defensive intensity.

Minnesota outscored Denver 33-15 in the second quarter en route to a 61-35 halftime lead. The 26-point deficit was the largest at home in Nuggets playoff history.

There was no challenge from Denver after halftime. The Timberwolves extended their lead in the third quarter to 73-41, and the Nuggets didn't get within 19 points again.

With the Timberwolves leading, 95-70 and Edwards at the free-throw line, MVP chants broke out for the burgeoning Minnesota star. Home fans had started to file out of Ball Arena. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone emptied his bench with more than three minutes remaining and the Timberwolves leading, 99-75.

Edwards again led the Timberwolves with 27 points alongside seven assists, two rebounds and steals. He continued to attack the basket and score tough buckets that are becoming his signature throughout these playoffs.

Towns shared the scoring lead with 27 points, 12 rebounds, one steal and two blocks.

Sixth Man of the Year Naz Reid took over Gobert's role as rim protector with 14 points, four rebounds and four blocks in 29 minutes off the bench. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was tasked with applying pressure on the perimeter and tallied 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks off the bench. Four Timberwolves players tallied two steals each.

Aaron Gordon was the only offensive bright spot for Denver with 20 points on an 8-of-14 shooting night. Jokić was the only other Nuggets starter in double figures with 16 points alongside 16 rebounds and eight assists. He shot 5 of 13 from the field and tallied four turnovers, which marked an improvement over his seven turnovers in Game 1.

Murray finished with eight points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals. He turned the ball over four times and shot 3 of 18 from the field. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts.

Denver has a decision to make ahead of Friday's Game 3 if Murray doesn't show significant improvement from his calf injury.

As a team, the Nuggets shot 34.9% from the field and 30% (9 of 30) from 3-point distance. They committed 16 turnovers. The Timberwolves countered with a 50.6% effort from the field and 39.4% (13 of 33) performance from beyond the arc.

Again, the Timberwolves did this all without Gobert, who was home Monday morning for the birth of his child. He attempted to travel to Denver in time for Monday's game, but weather complications ensured that he didn't make it. He'll presumably be ready to go at home for Game 3 with his Timberwolves holding a 2-0 series lead.

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