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HomeSportsNuggets use furious first-half run to even series with Wolves

Nuggets use furious first-half run to even series with Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS — Nikola Jokic burned a double-team by finding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope open for a 3 then notched a steal and hit a streaking Michael Porter Jr. for a fast-break dunk before Jamal Murray collected another steal and swished a 55-foot heave at the buzzer.

In the span of 20 dizzying seconds, the Denver Nuggets scored eight points to sprint into halftime of Sunday’s Game 4 up by 15. The flurry left the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Target Center crowd stunned while propelling Denver to a 115-107 win to even the Western Conference semifinal series at 2-2.

The Nuggets left Denver on Thursday down 2-0 and feeling as if many had counted them out against the upstart Timberwolves. They return to Colorado having reclaimed their championship swagger and with home-court advantage back in their pocket.

Asked what his team found in Minneapolis during these two road games, Denver coach Michael Malone quoted former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

“What I found is Rudy T is right, man,” Malone said. “‘Never underestimate the heart of a champion.’ They were quick to write us off, but these guys, we won a championship a year ago. We went into Miami [in the NBA Finals], won two games in a row. This team has been tested time and time again, and we found a way to solve whatever’s been thrown at us.

“This series is a long way from being over. We’re not celebrating. It’s 2-2. … But what I found about our group is that they do believe in themselves. And more importantly, they believe in the man next to them. We have a group that is acting as you would hope a championship team would act.”

Unlike their debacle in Game 2, when Minnesota’s defense suffocated them 106-80, the Nuggets didn’t just have an answer for everything the opponents threw at them Sunday — they took it to the Timberwolves.

Despite 44 points from Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, the Nuggets held Karl-Anthony Towns to 5-for-18 shooting. Aaron Gordon, who led Denver with his versatility, switched between guarding the 7-foot Towns and the 6-foot-4 Edwards.

On offense, Gordon made his first 10 shots from the field before finishing 11-for-12 with 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He did it all, including bringing the ball up the floor and being a playmaker for the Nuggets.

“He was our best player tonight,” Jokic said. “He was doing everything.”

It was high praise coming from Jokic, who delivered a three-time MVP performance with 35 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. Murray added 19 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds to go with the shot that deflated the Minnesota faithful.

“That was sick,” Gordon said of the buzzer-beater and eight-point spurt to end the second quarter. “I mean, that was crazy, man. Murray three-quarter-court 3 … so sick.”

The Timberwolves had control of this series only to lose it in what was supposed to be a weekend of celebration before a delirious crowd.

Before the Nuggets’ stunning first-half finish, the Timberwolves had just cut a 16-point lead down to seven with 48.3 seconds to go in the second quarter.

“Yeah, that hurt,” Towns said. “We made a good run to get ourselves back in the game and got some momentum, put some juice in the building, and then they did what the defending champs do.

“It definitely sent us to halftime with a bad taste in our mouth. So we just got to be better next time.”

With Gordon hitting almost everything he put up and Jokic fending off almost every Timberwolves’ run with a big shot or pass, the Nuggets now can take command of the series at home in Game 5 on Tuesday.

Gordon said he knew the Nuggets would respond the way they did this weekend.

“I love when people count us out,” Gordon said. “A lot of these guys have been counted out before in their career. They’ve been the underdogs or the dark horse in their career before. They’ve operated from that space before, having their backs against the wall, of being counted out.

“So I don’t think it was anything new to the individuals. It was new to our collective. But I liked the challenge, and I’m glad we accepted it and put ourselves in a good position with home court.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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