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SPORTS

Timberwolves Force Game 7 by Blowing Out Nuggets 115-70 Behind 27 Points from Anthony Edwards

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Edwards flashed seven fingers to the roaring crowd as he walked off for a fourth-quarter timeout during a blowout by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He had that tenacious look of a superstar player refusing to cede to the defending champs all night.

Edwards scored 27 points to pull the Timberwolves out of their mid-series slump and deliver a flawless 115-70 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday to force a Game 7 in this roller-coaster matchup.

Jaden McDaniels pitched in 21 points and lockdown defense, and Mike Conley had 13 points in his return from injury. Big men Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid combined for 38 rebounds and a relentless effort to keep NBA MVP Nikola Jokic to a relatively quiet 22 points.

The Wolves posted the largest winning margin in a postseason game since 2015, when Chicago beat Milwaukee by 54 points in a first-round series clincher, according to Sportradar.

“Guys just believing in themselves,” Edwards said. “I think the last three games we were all down on ourselves.”

The decisive game for a spot in the Western Conference finals is in Denver on Sunday night. Just as Edwards promised the locker room staffer at Ball Arena after the Wolves lost in Game 5.

Jamal Murray struggled again with 10 points on 4-for-18 shooting while battling a sore elbow for the Nuggets, whose bench was outscored 36-9 — and seven of those points came in the final five minutes. The Wolves reserves led a 24-0 run in the fourth quarter on the way to a staggering 50-point lead, a fitting follow-up to the 20-0 surge the starters led in the opening frame.

“We talked a lot today just about getting our edge back, our swagger, playing a little more free and easy,” coach Chris Finch said. “It just felt like we hadn’t had our best effort on both sides of the ball yet.”

No defending NBA champion had ever lost in the playoffs by more than 36 points until this flop by the Nuggets, who were outrebounded 62-43.

“That to me speaks volumes about the game and our approach,” Denver coach Mike Malone said.

Aaron Gordon had 12 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets, who finished just 7 for 36 from 3-point range and trailed by at least 17 points for the last 31 minutes of the game.

For the Wolves, offense from McDaniels is typically a bonus, but he can’t be as quiet as he was over the first five games with a total of 35 points. He was all over the court this time, going 3 of 5 from deep and mixing in some well-timed dunks to ignite the crowd.

Edwards, whose 44-point performance was ultimately wasted in a Game 4 loss the last time he played at Target Center, had nine points in the 20-0 spurt and needed only nine shots from the floor to get 19 points in the first half.

“Just shoot it every chance I get, because last game they took the ball out of my hands,” Edwards said.

In the third quarter, he turned a steal into a fast break before using two crossover dribbles to get Michael Porter Jr. in the air and blow by him for a dunk. A few minutes later, he drove past Porter to draw a foul and landed hard on his back. The Wolves called timeout to give Edwards more time to catch his breath, and when he walked back on the court without missing time the “MVP!” chants fired up.

The Wolves were frequently in disarray on offense during Game 5 in Denver while Conley sat out with right leg soreness, and the 17-year veteran point guard clearly helped keep the half-court sets crisp and organized in his return.

“It was a no-brainer. I was going to try to find a way,” Conley said. “We’re just better when we’re a complete team.”

The Wolves held the Nuggets to 14 points in the first quarter, tied for the second-lowest total in the league this postseason behind Miami (12 points) in a Game 3 loss to Boston in the first round.

Murray had a devil of a time doing anything productive against McDaniels, Edwards and the rest of the NBA-leading defense that snapped to life after revealing some sizeable cracks over the last three games.

Murray, who had a 3-for-18 clunker in Game 2, tried everything from leaners, fadeaways and spot-up 3-pointers. He even air-balled a finger roll from the baseline, then got backed down in a bad matchup by Naz Reid in the post on the subsequent possession for a flip-in that put the Wolves up 43-24.

McDaniels tipped in a missed 3-pointer by Reid at the halftime buzzer to make it 59-40, a sharp contrast from the 55-foot swish Murray had at the end of the second quarter in Game 3 to cap an 8-0 run over 20 pivotal seconds of that contest.

“Speaking from experience,” Murray said, “Game 6 is always the hardest.”


By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Sports Writer

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