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Timberwolves maul Nuggets, Brunson fires Knicks over Pacers

By AFP - May 08,2024 - Last updated at May 10,2024

NEW YORK — The Minnesota Timberwolves produced a dominant defensive display to seize a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven play-off series against the Denver Nuggets with a 106-80 road victory on Monday.

The third-seeded Timberwolves harassed Denver relentlessly to claim a second straight win over the NBA champions as the series heads back to Minneapolis for game three on Friday.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards scored 27 points apiece but the star of the show was Minnesota’s suffocating defensive effort, which knocked Denver out of their stride almost from the tip-off.

The Timberwolves finished with 11 steals and 12 blocks, in sharp contrast to Denver who posted just six steals and five blocks.

Remarkably, Minnesota’s dominance was achieved without Rudy Gobert, the Frenchman who is one of the defensive pillars of the Timberwolves line-up.

Gobert skipped the game in order to be with his partner after the birth of the couple’s son earlier Monday.

“When you don’t got the defensive player of the year, you got to step your game up,” Towns said afterwards.

“We all understood the challenge coming in against the defending champions, a really good team, with some of the best players the game’s ever seen.

“We just wanted to come here and find a way to win the game.”

The normally unflappable Nuggets may also be without star point guard Jamal Murray for game three.

Murray was caught on camera hurling a heat pack onto the court in the second quarter, raising the possibility of a suspension when the incident is reviewed by NBA disciplinary chiefs.

That incident was emblematic of the Nuggets’ woes in a game that saw Minnesota in control after they surged into a 28-20 lead at the end of the first quarter.

A disastrous second quarter for Denver saw them outscored 33-15 by Minneapolis, leaving the Timberwolves leading 61-35 at half-time.

Minnesota’s iron-clad defense never looked like surrendering that advantage in the second half and the visitors raced into a 32-point lead early in the third quarter to leave Denver’s Ball Arena in stunned silence.

Denver coach Michael Malone admitted: “We just got beat up in our building and we got embarrassed in front of our fans.

“The good thing is we’re not playing until Friday, so we have a chance to get away and think about what we want to do moving forward,” added Malone.

“I’m not worried about anything other than trying to win game three.”

 

Brilliant Brunson 

 

In Monday’s other play-off game, Jalen Brunson had a scintillating fourth quarter as the New York Knicks edged the Indiana Pacers 121-117 in their Eastern Conference opener.

Knicks talisman Brunson finished with 43 points, six rebounds and six assists to give New York the early advantage in their best-of-seven conference semi-final.

But it was his ice-cool performance down the stretch that swept New York to victory in front of 19,812 fans at an electric Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks guard rattled in 21 points in the fourth quarter to complete his fourth straight playoff game with 40 points or more.

Donte DiVincenzo backed Brunson with 25 points while Josh Hart weighed in with a monster performance that included 24 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a block.

Myles Turner led the Pacers with 23 points while Pascal Siakam added 19.

“That’s what you love about Jalen,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after the win.

“I could go on and on about him, but the thing I love about him is he’s all about the team.

“All he cares about is winning. And he cares about his teammates, and in the end, whatever it is we need, he’ll provide.

“But I think the same could be said for all the guys.”

Brunson was the difference in a pulsating contest that saw neither side gain more than a single-digit advantage across four quarters.

The Pacers opened up a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Knicks came roaring back to lead 113-109 after Brunson’s step-back jumper with 2min 42sec remaining.

DiVincenzo also came up with a huge clutch play with 40 seconds remaining, nailing a 28-foot three-pointer to put New York 118-115 ahead.

Indiana got back to within one at 118-117 but a harsh offensive foul called against Turner on DiVincenzo with 13 seconds remaining proved decisive.

Game two takes place in New York on Wednesday.

 

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