2023 Mile High Cypher Report part 2: Nuggets weather Wolves rally, take 2-0 lead going into Game 3

By Daniel Paiz

The Denver Nuggets weather a second half rally from the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 122-113 win to take a 2-0 lead in their first round matchup. Jamal Murray fired off for 40 points in Game 2, at times willing the ball into the hoop. Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic nearly had a triple double, scoring 27 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists; Michael Porter Jr. chipped in 16 points, most of which came in the 4th quarter. Minnesota came back from a 20+ point deficit in part thanks to Anthony Edwards scoring 41 points, a playoff career-high for the first-time All Star.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone knew the visitors would bounce back, and that 40 points scored in the 3rd quarter proved it. Fans and players alike likely had a feeling as well Game 2 would be a much closer battle, but Ball Arena still showed up, sounded off, and swung those rally towels all night in this back-and-forth match.

Game 2 Recap

Denver played like the first half of Game 2 was a continuation of Game 1; then, Minnesota remembered it was the playoffs and Denver decided to take a break from playing defense. One point of intrigue was the back and forth scoring duel between Denver’s Jamal Murray and Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards. Murray had 40 points along with hitting 6 of 10 three pointers; Edwards scored 41 points and also went 6 of 10 from downtown. The first buckets of the game for each team were from Murray and Edwards, as each guy was determined to will their team to victory.

An interesting note from looking at both teams’ box scores is that it was essentially 8 versus 8 tonight in terms of who played. Both teams kept it to three guys off their bench, and starters hovered around 40 minutes of playing time. Minnesota made it a game by winning the third quarter, as the overall box score shows a tale of two halves:

Denver won three of four quarters, but that third quarter was a complete mental lapse on the defensive side of the ball. A 15-point halftime lead turned into a 2-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. While Denver leads the series 2-0, Minnesota has some momentum for Game 3 Friday night; being at home will certainly sweeten their chances at notching their first win. Looking at the box scores for each team also revealed why this one was closer than Game 1:

Both Denver and Minnesota had four of their five starters play nearly 30 minutes or more, and each had a bench guy play 30 as well. For the Nuggets, because Michael Porter Jr. had some early foul trouble, Bruce Brown played a bit more. For the front court, Denver largely rotated between Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and Jeff Green. Minnesota employed a similar method but primarily because Taurean Prince started instead of Nickeil Alexander-Walker; Prince had foul trouble all night, so Kyle Anderson and Alexander-Walker split those minutes. Mike Conley was their key bench player, scoring 14 points.

Denver won this game primarily because of Jokic, Murray, and Porter Jr. combining for 83 total points; conversely, Minnesota had nearly half that from Edwards, but Towns was an offensive nonfactor.

Keys to Game 3

The Nuggets had more rebounds, more assists, fewer turnovers, and a higher shooting percentage overall in Game 2. These categories are proving to be the determining factors. Minnesota found their offensive pulse in part to Edwards making history. That’s a catch-22 for the eight seed, as they have a player making history but still lost Game 2.

It can’t be overstated enough that a change of venue might be Minnesota’s best shot at scoring their way back into this series. There has never been a team in the NBA playoffs to rally back from a 3-0 deficit. What also might be headshaking for the Wolves is that of the 13 teams that have rallied from a 3-1 deficit, the guys on the opposite bench did it twice in the 2019 playoff bubble. Only Jokic, Murray, and Porter Jr. remain from that hearty 2019 squad, but it would be a mighty challenge for the underachieving Wolves to make that comeback.

Game 3 doesn’t have a lot to unpack, to be honest. If Karl-Anthony Towns doesn’t step up offensively, and they don’t get more help from their bench, Denver could go up 3-0. The ballclub from the Mile High can’t take Game 3 off, however. It will be a matter of how the matchups go on Friday night, but it seems that if Denver can get more guys involved, this ups the ball movement and scoring. When they ran high screens between Murray and Jokic in the second half, there were several sequences where the other three guys were standing on the other side of the court. Getting tired is very understandable, but not moving around allows the defense to rest a bit as well; can’t let that happen.

Denver wins if they keep up the movement and scoring, Minnesota wins if they want to avoid a sweep.


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