Mateo’s Hoop Diary: The Timberwolves put the Nuggets in a chokehold, taking a 2-0 lead in the series

The Timberwolves wiped the floor of Ball Arena with the defending champs so badly that Jamal Murray threw a heating pack on the court while seated on the bench, which should have got him tossed and deserves a suspension. Additionally, Nuggets coach Michael Malone and his staff were disturbed on the sideline, and the hosts’ supporters were crestfallen as the squad went down 0-2 in the west semi-finals.

The Timberwolves were absent Rudy Gobert (childbirth). And the Nuggets were missing their hearts.

Aaron Gordon supplied 13 first-quarter points, attacking through an inverted pick-and-roll set with the Joker, making a putback, and logging three jumpers in the lane and at long range. But the rest of the Nuggets converted three of 12 baskets in the first quarter.

On the ‘Wolves’ side, Kyle Anderson, who filled in for Gobert, absorbed three offensive rebounds early.

Karl-Anthony Towns scored on a handoff roll on the left side, nailed two jumpers at 19 and 27 feet away, pump-faked Murray to get loose on the baseline for a layup and powered through him for another scoop shot.

And Anthony Edwards sliced through the lane twice, dropping in a reverse layup with Jokić on his tail and pulverizing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the cup for another. The latter caused Malone to lose his mind by getting into referee Marc Davis’ face as if he were looking for a fade. He wasn’t given a technical foul for his insolence.

The Nuggets were down 20-28 at the end of the first, shooting 42.1% from the field and 37.5% from 3-point distance.

Then it got worse as the visitors forced eight consecutive misses. They contested deep jumpers produced by the drive and kick on time, shut down Murray’s rim and distance attack and stayed in front of the ball, plus had help come in the back line.

In total, the Timberwolves conceded 15 points on six of 24 shots in the second quarter. Notably, Jokić and Murray were held to a combined two of 12 ventures.

Defensively, the Nuggets were incapable of stopping Naz Reid from nailing two top-of-the-key triples on pick-and-pop sets. Towns contributed another five points. And Edwards finished twice on the break, dribbled past Gordon from the right wing to the cup for a layup and dunked via a give-and-go with Kyle Anderson on the right side.

The Nuggets were down 35-61 at halftime, shooting 32.6% to the Timberwolves’ 54.5%. On top of that, the squad had 20 paint points, three on the break, two via second chances, none off turnovers and six from the bench.

The Timberwolves picked up 32 interior points, 18 in the open court, eight on extra tries, 10 off turnovers and 19 from the bench.

Next, the Nuggets emerged from the intermission rattled and off-target, making two of nine shots to start. Yet, four straight makes by Michael Porter Jr., KCP, Jokić and Murray plus Jokić’s two trips to the charity line prevented the crew from having its offense wiped out in the third quarter.

On the other side, Edwards and Reid were the only Wolves to make multiple field goals, but the latter was inefficient (28.6%).

The fourth quarter started with the Nuggets behind 60-82.

Jokić, Murray and Porter were useless, adding nothing to the scoreboard the rest of the way.

And smelling the blood of his vulnerable prey, Minnesota’s conquering star, Edwards, swished a right-wing banger over Justin Holiday, spun past KCP in the post for a layup and drove left from the top to the rim for another deuce.

The Nuggets lost 80-106. The squad had 34 paint points, 10 on the break, eight via second chances, two off turnovers and 23 from the bench.

Gordon had 20 points on eight of 14 attempts, with four rebounds, two assists, one steal and a turnover. Jokić had 16 marks on 38.5% shooting, with 16 rebounds, eight assists, one block and four turnovers. Holiday put up 13 points on four of six tries, with two rebounds and one dime. And Murray logged eight points on three of 18 looks, with 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block and four turnovers.

The Timberwolves accumulated 52 interior points, 18 in the open court, 14 on extra tries, 19 after turnovers and 37 from the reserves.

Towns (27), Edwards (27), Reid (14) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (14) were Minnesota’s double-digit scorers.

Malone said, “They kicked our ass.”

Later he said that his priority is trying to win Game 3 and its first quarter. On the Murray situation, Malone said he wasn’t aware of it when a question about him facing league discipline was asked.

Jokić said the Nuggets didn’t help themselves, citing poor ball movement.

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