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Defending champs aren’t done yet! Nuggets tie series with Game 4 win

Sports

The champs are back. So is the MVP.

Led by sizzling shooting and a stunning surge to conclude the second quarter, the Denver Nuggets secured a 115-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. After dropping the first two games at home, Denver has tied the series at 2-2 and re-seized the home-court advantage it earlier ceded in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Nuggets took control on Sunday with a 12-0 run late in the first quarter that ended with Denver leading, 29-24. A 12-2 run to start the second quarter extended the lead to 41-26 before Anthony Edwards clawed the Timberwolves to back within 56-49.

Then the Nuggets stunned Target Center.

8 points in 20 seconds

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope matched an Edwards 3-pointer with one of his own with 20 seconds left in the half. Aaron Gordon then stripped Edwards to set up a Michael Porter Jr. fast-break dunk with 1.6 seconds left in the half, seemingly capping a 5-0 Nuggets run to conclude the quarter. But Denver wasn’t done.

Jamal Murray stole an errant Nickeil Alexander-Walker inbounds pass down the right sideline and launched the ball from 55 feet as the clocked ticked down. It sank through the net as the buzzer sounded to cap an 8-0 run in the final 20 seconds of the half to extend Denver’s lead to 64-49.

A 16-point Denver lead had been cut to seven then re-extended back to 15 in the blink of an eye. Edwards continued to lead the Timberwolves’ fight after halftime. But Minnesota never recovered.

Minnesota cut its deficit to as close as 113-107 in the final minute. But the Nuggets maintained a double-digit lead through most of the second half to send the series back to Denver for a pivotal Game 5 at home. They’ve regained their swagger after being outmatched and outplayed by the upstart Timberwolves in the first two games of the series.

Jamal Murray hit another big playoff shot Sunday to help propel the Nuggets to victory. (David Berding/Getty Images)

Timberwolves defense comes up short

Like in their Game 3 win on Friday, the Nuggets won the game with hot shooting from the field and from beyond the 3-point arc. Murray, Gordon and Nikola Jokić took turns in starring roles to fight back a 44-point effort from Edwards.

The Nuggets shot 57% from the field and 13 of 29 (44.8%) from 3-point distance on a strong shooting night from virtually their entire eight-man rotation. Four days after winning his third MVP with his Nuggets trailing in the series, 2-0, Jokić led the Nuggets effort with 35 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block. He shot 15 of 26 from the field and scored 16 points in the fourth quarter.

Gordon was on a heater the entire game. He hit his first 10 shots en route to an 11-of-12 effort from the floor that produced 27 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal.

Murray finished with 19 points, eight assists and five rebounds while shooting 8 of 17 from the field and 3 of 7 from beyond the arc. He appears to be past the calf injury that hobbled him in the first two games of the series and the frustrations that earned him a $100,000 fine after he threw multiple items onto the court during Game 2’s blowout loss at home.

Denver’s bench came through as well. Justin Holiday, Christian Braun and Reggie Jackson combined for 27 points while collectively shooting 8 of 14 from the field and 6 of 9 from 3-point distance. Braun and Holiday powered Denver’s surge early in the second quarter as it extended its lead to 42-28.

The Nuggets did all this against the league’s best defense from the regular season that shut them down in the first two games of the series. The Timberwolves’ offense, meanwhile, couldn’t keep up.

Edwards’ 44 points not nearly enough

Edwards, as he’s done throughout the playoffs, powered the Minnesota attack. He scored nine of Minnesota’s first 15 points as the Timberwolves jumped out to a 15-9 lead. He kept up the pressure throughout the game while shooting 16 of 25 from the field and 5 of 8 from 3 on a 44-point, five-rebound, five-assist effort.

He just didn’t get enough help from his supporting cast as Minnesota’s defense took a step back for a second straight game.

Karl-Anthony Towns shot a career-worst 1-of-10 in the first half. He finished the game with 13 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 5 of 18 from the field and 1 of 4 from long distance. Jaden McDaniels tallied 11 points and two rebounds while attempting just eight shots from the field. Rudy Gobert posted 11 points and 14 rebounds, but Minnesota’s front line struggled to contain Jokić as it did through the first two games of the series. It had no answer for Gordon.

Minnesota shot well (47.6% from the field, 39.3% from 3), but it wasn’t enough against a Nuggets team that solved its defense for a second straight game.

Only five teams in NBA history have rallied to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games at home. Denver’s rallied to turn this series into a best-of-three as it attempts to become the sixth.