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SPORTS

Edwards, Towns Lead Wolves’ 106-80 Blitz of Murray, Jokic for 2-0 Series Lead over Champion Nuggets

DENVER (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves, led by Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, overpowered the Denver Nuggets on Monday night in a stunningly efficient 106-80 thrashing of the reigning but reeling NBA champions.

“We’ve had some really good defensive efforts this year,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said after his team took a surprising 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. “That has to be right up there with the best of them.”

The Wolves held Denver to an ugly 29-of-83 shooting night, and the most impressive thing about that was the absence of their best defender, 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert, who was back in Minneapolis for the birth of his son.

Gobert’s fingerprints were all over this masterpiece, Finch suggested.

“Rudy’s driven the defensive culture here. I think it’s a testament to his impact, his presence and what he’s infused into the team of how important defense is and how great it can be when we play it,” Finch said. “That aside, we expect to win no matter who’s with us and who’s not.”

Towns and Edwards both scored 27 points as the Wolves improved to 6-0 in the playoffs and gave themselves a chance to close out the fuming Nuggets with wins Friday night and Sunday in Minneapolis.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, drives to the basket as Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid, rright, defends in the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Monday, May 6, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

So flustered were the Nuggets by the second quarter that coach Michael Malone threw a fit at an official and scuffling point guard Jamal Murray threw a heat pack onto the court in frustration as Towns was about to score on a layup.

Malone said he had no idea it was Murray who tossed the heat pack, saying, “I knew a heating pack was on the floor, but it was not in my field of vision.”

Nor did the officials see him throw it, added crew chief Marc Davis.

“We weren’t aware it had come from the bench. If we would have been aware it came from the bench, we could have reviewed it under the hostile act trigger. The penalty would have been a technical foul,” Davis told a pool reporter.

Finch said he knew only that the heat pack had come from the Nuggets’ bench.

“We tried to impress upon (the officials) that there’s probably not many fans in the building that have a heat pack. So, it probably had to come from the bench, which they found logical,” Finch said. “But yeah, it’s inexcusable and dangerous.”

Murray, who has shot 9 for 32 in this series, left Ball Arena without comment for the second straight game. He is likely to be fined by the NBA for his actions.

Aaron Gordon led Denver with 20 points, Nikola Jokic had 16 points and 16 rebounds but their third-leading scorer was sub Justin Holliday with 13 points. Murray scored eight points on 3-of-18 shooting.

Kyle Anderson replaced Gobert in the starting lineup and had eight assists and nine rebounds and reserves Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker both scored 14.

During a 43-18 first-half flourish by the Timberwolves — Edwards was on the bench for much of it, no less — the Nuggets grew so frustrated that Malone ran way out onto the court and got in Davis’ face for an extended blowup during a timeout but avoided a technical.

“Although Coach Malone was visibly upset about both his team and the officials, I did not hear him say anything unsportsmanlike that warranted a technical foul,” Davis explained.

Frustrated by their slow starts — the Nuggets have trailed by double digits in six of their seven playoff games and by nine in the other — Malone challenged his team to get off to a strong start for once.

Only Gordon heeded his coach’s call, scoring 13 quick points, including a 3-pointer that brought the Nuggets to 18-17 late in the first quarter.

Things unraveled for Denver after that.

Trailing 61-35 at the break, the Nuggets’ 26-point halftime deficit was Denver’s largest in a home playoff game in franchise history.

Now the Nuggets, who lost consecutive games just once during the season, find themselves needing to beat Edwards four times in five tries to advance to the Western Conference finals again, a seemingly impossibility given both teams’ level of play at the moment.

“The message we want to send is that we’re extremely honored and blessed that we have this opportunity to go home up 2-0,” Towns said. “But we’re humble in this approach.”

Edwards, for one, expects to see a different Nuggets team at Target Center this weekend.

“It worked in our favor tonight, man. That’s all that was,” he said. “We made shots. They didn’t. That’s the defending champs over there. So, they’re not going to come out and play like that again in Game 3.”

___
By ARNIE STAPLETON AP Sports Writer

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