June 22, 2024

Nuggets have no answers for Timberwolves in historic Game 6 loss: ‘They destroyed us’

MINNEAPOLIS — Michael Malone walked into the Denver Nuggets locker room at halftime of their wayward Game 6 on Thursday night time. In one hand was a stat sheet. He then checked out his group and requested a couple of optimistic in what would turn out to be one of many historic playoff losses in NBA historical past. He talked about Minnesota’s area aim share. The Timberwolves had been capturing 42 % from the sphere on the time. He talked about Minnesota’s 3-point share. The Timberwolves had been at 30 %.

He requested his roster if he instructed them these could be the chances earlier than the sport, would they be acceptable?

The reply was a unanimous sure.

“I agree,” Malone mentioned. “So let me tell you why we’re getting our asses kicked. You’re not taking care of the ball. You’re not rebounding the ball. We’re playing with no physicality and no toughness.”

There might be a Game 7 in Denver on Sunday in what has turn out to be an important Western Conference semifinal as a result of Minnesota defeated the Nuggets 115-70 Thursday night time on the Target Center. The Timberwolves had been in a position to try this — as Malone instructed his group at halftime — as a result of they had been more durable than the Nuggets. The Wolves outplayed, outrebounded and defended higher than the Nuggets.

If Thursday night time was “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” the Denver Nuggets performed the function of Glass Joe. For three consecutive video games, the Nuggets had been the group taking the battle to the Wolves. At the top of Game 5 at Ball Arena, the Timberwolves had slumped shoulders and unhealthy physique language. At the ultimate buzzer, Minnesota ahead Karl-Anthony Towns limped off the ground and into the locker room. Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards mentioned that Denver star Nikola Jokić, who turned in a historic Game 5, deserved his flowers.

This sequence appeared all however over, which makes Thursday night time’s Game 6 consequence stunning and interesting on the similar time. Heading into the sport, the Wolves didn’t appear to have a lot battle left. Even in the event that they summoned the fortitude to pressure a Game 7, no one anticipated a forty five level unfold.

But right here we’re, heading to a seventh recreation in a sequence that’s featured somewhat little bit of every little thing. Now, after the unbelievable excessive of Game 5, when Jokic reached the stratosphere, the Nuggets are going to have to rebound from taking part in one of many worst playoff video games in NBA historical past. Just how historic? Thursday marked the Nuggets’ fewest factors in a playoff recreation. No defending champion has ever misplaced by extra factors in a playoff recreation.

“They punked us in Game 2. They punked us tonight in Game 6,” Denver guard Jamal Murray mentioned. “We didn’t come to play tonight, and we knew that elimination games are the ones that are the hardest to win.”

The Nuggets’ locker room after Game 6 was a quiet and considerate house filled with gamers with their share of nicks and bruises. Murray’s calf has lengthy been a difficulty for the Nuggets. On Thursday, he shot 4 of 18 from the sphere on his approach to 10 factors. He couldn’t get to the basket, had no raise on the rim and no explosion off the dribble. (*6*) masked his co-star’s struggles. The actuality is that for a lot of this sequence, the stability between Murray and Jokić that makes the Nuggets particular has not been there.

Aaron Gordon sat in his stall, scrolling his cellphone, a thick bag of ice wrapped round his proper shoulder. He’s been a warrior this sequence, and has usually been Denver’s second-best participant. Game 6 is the primary time since Game 2, nonetheless, that the Timberwolves had been in a position to muzzle his general influence on each ends of the ground.

Jokić sat in his sweat-soaked uniform and iced most of his decrease physique. He led the Nuggets with 22 factors on Thursday night time, however he was far much less efficient than he was in Game 5. To be truthful, that efficiency isn’t replicable from recreation to recreation. But Jokić didn’t shoot the ball nicely. He didn’t defend nicely. The Timberwolves despatched unpredictable double-teams at him many of the night time.

Jokić is somebody with excellent emotional stability. He’s by no means going to get too excessive or low in a scenario. When Malone emptied his bench early in the fourth quarter, Jokić stood on the sidelines for the rest of the sport, taking in the historic beatdown, as a result of he needed his physique to remain unfastened for a postgame raise.

He referred to as Thursday night time a “great loss” as a result of it was one which was so lopsided that the Nuggets have no selection however to face it and determine issues out for Game 7.

“This isn’t something that we can just flush,” Jokić mentioned. “They beat our ass. They were better than us in every segment of the game. We need to accept it and take it. And then we need to try and be better the next time. When you lose by 45 points, it’s not something that happens every day. So we have to accept it and learn from it.”

The general maturity that Denver confirmed after Game 6 was notable. There was no working from the loss, though you’ll be able to’t run from a loss like Thursday night time’s. Murray, Jokić, Malone and Reggie Jackson had been all accountable, even with the powerful questions. The collective temper was one in every of understanding. Friday is prone to be a relaxation day, whereas Saturday will probably deliver movie and a tough follow.

Denver’s title protection hasn’t come simple for numerous causes. The competitors has been a lot better this time round, even with the Los Angeles Lakers, a group the Nuggets have mastered. They perceive the Wolves are a group designed to match up with them, which is why the Nuggets are removed from shocked this sequence goes to a deciding recreation.

The Nuggets know this was a loud loss, as Game 2 was. But Game 3 was a loud win for the Nuggets, as was Game 5. This sequence has undergone important momentum swings and there have been a number of events the place every group has seemed to be in management. Each group has gained two highway video games. If you checked out this matchup on paper earlier than the sequence, a seventh recreation appeared potential.

The Nuggets know their activity is straightforward, however not simple: They have to beat Minnesota as soon as. Knowing this has come all the way down to a single recreation makes digesting the blowout of Game 6 loads simpler.

“It’s obviously disappointing to get down by 50 in a playoff game,” Malone mentioned. “That’s never an enjoyable experience. So we have to go home and get back to playing the way we did when we won three straight games. I have no doubt that we’ll be ready to do that on Sunday.”

Doing so means recognizing a few of the basketball causes that Thursday night time occurred. They should determine and dissect the constant double-teams and further our bodies the Wolves are sending at Jokić. Sometimes, the Timberwolves doubled on the catch. Sometimes, they waited to double till he put the ball on the ground. Sometimes they doubled with a guard. On others, they introduced one other large man.

In Game 5, Denver employed the identical sort of technique with Minnesota star Anthony Edwards, and the Nuggets by no means allowed him to get snug. In Game 6, Jokić took Edwards’ spot in that regard.

Yet, a lot of Thursday night time was Minnesota taking part in with the correct amount of desperation and the Nuggets not assembly that stage. This was curious as a result of a win on Thursday night time would probably have given Denver near per week off earlier than the beginning of the Western Conference finals. That would have given the Nuggets time to relaxation Murray’s calf, as a result of Murray’s well being is their largest team-wide challenge. Given all of that, the Nuggets have to be upset the Wolves merely outworked them on Thursday.

That’s what the Nuggets know they should personal: They had been “punked” for a second time in this sequence. The Nuggets should regroup for a Game 7 that may both lengthen or finish their season.

“I think we need to allow this to sink in for us,” Jokić mentioned. “They beat us. They destroyed us and now we have to return and be taught from it.

“We need to give them respect, you know? We actually went up 9-2, and then from there it was a one-team show, and we have to learn from that.”

(Photo of Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon: AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post by way of Getty Images)