2023 Mile High Cypher Report: Nuggets tame Wolves in Game 1, look to keep momentum going into Game 2

By Daniel Paiz

This is the 2023 Mile High Cypher Report, where things will be written about a bit differently than previous years when it comes to covering Nuggets playoff basketball. Instead of doing a series overview, there’s going to be in-between game articles. A brief breakdown of the previous game will mix with a prediction of adjustments for the upcoming game and keys to success. Denver is making franchise history as the 2023 NBA Playoffs are underway, earning their first number one seed ever. The best in the West 53 and 29 Mile High City ballclub finished out the season with some pretty average play, due to resting players and preparing for the first round.

After a narrow defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Minnesota Timberwolves earned a solid victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Those play-in games seemed to lead to chemistry and success for other seven and eight seeds; however, Minnesota didn’t have that success.

Game 1 Recap

Ball Arena was electric Sunday evening as nearly a week of waiting for Game 1 of the first-round finally culminated in playoff basketball. The stadium was filled with white playoff shirts with the playoff mantra “Bring It In’, and every seat had a light-up wristband that was used throughout the evening (seeing this in person was fantastic). The scoreboard flashing images of the team finding all kinds of success, the building booming from the bass of the sound system, and PA announcer Kyle Speller getting the crowd even more frenzied up as it all happened simultaneously; Denver was ready for this game.

A very topical review of the box score tells us the Nuggets won or tied all four quarters; your squad does that, you will win every time. The third quarter was key for this game, as the Nuggets have struggled in the third occasionally this year. What’s also important to look into are the team stats, which show the following:

Every important category Denver had the better performance: more rebounds, more assists, higher shooting percentages, and most importantly in the postseason, fewer turnovers. Both teams did an alright job in turnovers, but Denver added that to edging out the Timberwolves in all the other categories. When you outrebound, turn the ball over less, and hit your free throws, there are few if any games a team will lose. What really stood out to me in addition to what’s shown above is the ball movement, and each team’s box scores will show what I’m talking about.

There are a lot of numbers here that will tell you why Denver won, and why Minnesota lost. However, please focus on the numbers highlighted in yellow: these are the assists that each player had on each team. Denver had eight players that had at least one assist in Game 1. Now compare that to Minnesota: the Wolves had seven players in total with an assist.

How does Rudy Gobert (yes he’s out there for rebounds and blocks, I know) in 26 minutes have zero assists? How does Karl-Anthony Towns (again, I know his focus is scoring and rebounds) have two assists in 30 minutes? By comparison, the combined 8 minutes played by Reggie Jackson and Peyton Watson of Denver had the same assist count.

Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch likely isn’t going to hark too hard on this particular stat, but it’s likely he stresses more passes, more movement, and more attacking the paint by guys who make their living there (read: Edwards, Towns, Gobert, Conley). Nuggets head coach Michael Malone remembers Gobert and Conley having success against Denver in the bubble, and also knows Edwards especially is not a guy you want to see light up the scoreboard.

Keys to Game 2

Game 1 was a really entertaining and fun experience for both Denver players and fans alike. However, this is the NBA playoffs. Nobody that’s paying attention thinks this series is over, and Denver understands that Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns aren’t likely to have repeat performances. Minnesota is a team that likes to get things moving and are similar to Denver in wanting to make plays in transition.

Ball movement will once again be one of the most important factors to both teams. The more assists your team has, the better the scoring will be spread out, and the more exhausted the opposing defense will be in trying to slow things down. Denver will need Nikola Jokic to find a way to assert himself on the scoring side a bit more, as it isn’t guaranteed that all five starters and sixth man extraordinaire Bruce Brown will all score 13 or more points in game 2. The Nuggets bench will need to step up a bit more offensively as well, as Christain Braun and Jeff Green didn’t do a whole lot of scoring.

Minnesota as a whole will come in with a fire under their seats, knowing that going down 2-0 to Denver makes a series win much harder. Guys like Mike Conley, Jaylen Nowell, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will need to hit a few more shots, and the Wolves’ starting five will also need to find their offensive rhythm. Game 2 likely won’t go like Game 1, but it seems like if Denver can keep up their consistency on both sides of the floor, Minnesota will be facing a 2-0 deficit at the end of Wednesday night. If they can also have another Game 1-type performance from Jamal Murray, that’ll likely help grab win number two as well.


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