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Nuggets-Timberwolves: 5 takeaways from Minnesota's dominant Game 6 victory

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Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves played with menace and without mistakes in an emphatic Game 6 win over Denver.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Well, well, howl about that?

The Timberwolves weren’t willing to pack it in, chalk this playoff series up as a learning experience and bow before the defending champions after all. At least not yet. If ever.

There will be another game, as in seven, as in winner-take-all, as in the Nuggets’ chances of repeating will come down to one night, which at this point could go for or against them.

Not much in this Western Conference semifinal has made sense, certainly not Thursday night when Minnesota scored a quick and decisive KO and claimed Game 6 in smashing and rather easy fashion. Anthony Edwards and the No. 1-rated defense combined to push this series to the edge.

“We talked a lot about getting our edge back, our swagger,” said coach Chris Finch.

The Wolves hadn’t lost three straight games all season until this series. In theory, asking the Nuggets to take four straight — three at the Target Center — might’ve been too much after all.

By the fourth quarter, Nikola Jokic and the other four Nuggets’ starters were finished, subjected to watching the reserves clean up while giving themselves an early start on their Game 7 preparations.

The Nuggets were outplayed for roughly 40 of 48 minutes. Murray shot 1-for-10 to start the game. Aaron Gordon didn’t hurt the Wolves with backdoor dunks. Michael Porter Jr. remained in a series-long funk, scoring in single digits for the fifth time in six games.

So, this is where we are.

Here’s five takeaways from the Wolves’ 115-70 wipeout victory in a Game 6 that, like these takeaways, was all Wolves:


1. Wolves response was swift

After dropping 21 points (8-10 FGs) on the Nuggets to help force Game 7, Jaden McDaniels joins GameTIme live via Arena Link.

After losing three straight going into this game, and then spotting Denver a 9-2 lead in Game 6, the Wolves delivered a 20-0 beatdown of a first-quarter run and never looked back.

With Target Center vibrating after every basket and defensive stop, the Wolves displayed a level of dominance not seen since their surprising 26-point Game 2 win. Well, it was an answer that was better late than never.

Edwards supplied the fuel, dropping 19 of his 27 points in the first half, a few on violent dunks, mixed in with 3-pointers (four for the game).

But — the moment of truth came at 9-2, Denver, and inside the Wolves’ huddle during a quick timeout.

“There was a sense of deja vu, here we go again,” said Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. “But we came out of it knowing there was no time for error.”

The response, then, was necessary — if only to regroup, regain confidence, roust the home crowd and prevent the Nuggets from seizing control for good.


2. KAT trumps Joker, sort of

The Wolves had to devise something different in defense of Jokic, especially after his 40-point demolition two nights ago. So they went back to basics — use Towns as the first line of defense and allow Rudy Gobert to roam and help out whenever necessary.

Joker never hurt the Wolves as a scorer or elevating teammates. He finished with a tame 22 points while Minnesota’s quick rotations shut down the passing lanes and didn’t allow his teammates many clean looks.

This is no misprint: Jokic had just two assists.

The Nuggets shot over 50% in each of the last three games, all Denver wins. Thursday they were held to their playoff-low 30% overall, 19% on 3s. For the Wolves, it was a return to the incredible defensive level they had in Game 2, which was one of the best by any team in recent playoff history.

Edwards was tremendous on Murray, who strangely (and perhaps annoyingly) replied “who” when asked post-game what Edwards did.

As for Jokic, Towns said: “He’s MVP for a reason. You just try to make him work as hard as possible, not make it as easy. Go out there with determination and effort.”

Edwards said it was more than that: “His ass stayed out of foul trouble. I told (Towns), if you foul, we lose.”


3. Ant falls, rises, relief

His work was largely done, putting the Wolves up big, raising the crowd to its feet, delivering the kind of two-way performance we’ve seen from him this postseason.

Then, splat. Edwards took a fall in the third quarter that didn’t seem terribly scary at first, until he lay face-down on the floor what what seemed like an eternity.

There was a hush in the crowd, but two things to remember in these situations. First, if his teammates don’t frantically wave over the medical staff, he’s OK. Second, this is Anthony Edwards, known for his durability almost as well as his dunks.

He received a standing ovation when he walked gingerly to the bench with a sore tailbone and also when he checked right back into the game.

“I’m used to falling like that in football when I have pads,” said Edwards, who played the sport in middle school and then gave it up for hoops. “I don’t have pads, so I felt that.”


4. Return of Conley the key

Mike Conley returns to the Timberwolves' lineup after missing Game 5 due to injury, and immediately re-balances the roles.

When he awakened Thursday morning, Mike Conley managed to move in a way he couldn’t the previous day.

“Couldn’t walk two days ago,” said Conley. “Couldn’t move at all.”

Conley suffered a sore calf and missed Game 5 after experiencing pain in warmups. His status for Game 6, then, seemed tenuous until, as Conley said: “I had to find a way.”

So he returned to the floor, and his teammates and coaches said it was no coincidence that the Wolves returned to winning.

Edwards: “Mike Conley. That’s why we won.”

Finch: “He’s critical to everything we do.”

Conley, laughing: “It was a team effort. We won by 45. I don’t make that much of a difference.”

Well, Conley’s experience, leadership and steadiness were necessary in an elimination game; he has a calming influence on this team. Plus, he did move and play well: 31 minutes, 13 points, five assists, all while relieving Edwards of the playmaking.

Conley was skeptical at first, though. He’d seen too many players with the same type of injury miss extended time.

“It’s a tough injury to deal with when you’re talking the calf and Achilles,” he said.


5. McDaniels gives a terrific two-way show

The Wolves have come to expect a superior defensive delivery from Jaden McDaniels, and Thursday was much of the same — checking multiple players, helping to shut down Porter (8 points) and at times Murray (10).

The bonus is when McDaniels is producing nearly as well at the other end. That’s when the Wolves are especially dangerous.

“He’s the X-factor,” said Edwards. “I feel when Jaden plays well, can’t nobody beat us.”

McDaniels shot 8-for-10 for 21 points and forced the Nuggets to give him respect when he dropped three of those shots (out of five attempts) from deep.

“We need to see that go down,” said Finch. “When that happens to Jaden, we know we’re playing the right way.”

When the Wolves have a third player capable of getting 20 points, they’re at their peak as a team, because that increases the chance of Minnesota scoring 100 points and their defense making it difficult for another team to match or top that.

All that happened Thursday, and the result was … Game 7.

* * *

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.

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