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Nuggets have no answers for Timberwolves' size, defense and Anthony Edwards


Denver was the popular pick to win the NBA championship coming into these playoffs. After falling behind 0-2 in the second round to the Timberwolves, they’re now huge underdogs (+400) to avoid elimination, per BetMGM

“They punked us,” Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson said after Monday’s blowout loss. “They literally just manhandled us.”

How did this happen to a team that went 16-4 in the playoffs in cruising to last year’s championship? Denver beat Minnesota in five games in last year’s first round. These aren’t those same Timberwolves. Here’s why they have been the perfect matchup to take out the defending champs. 

Murray has had a miserable series, averaging just 12.5 points on a ghastly 28.1 percent from the field. That’s not new for him — he averaged just 17.3 points per game against the Wolves in the regular season, down from his 21.2 per game overall.

Murray has looked hampered by a sore calf that troubled him throughout the end of Denver’s first round series. He hasn’t had the same burst, and he’s clearly been frustrated. That was evident after he threw a heat pack on the floor towards the officials during the game.

READ: Will Jamal Murray be suspended for throwing object on floor? 

Injuries are only a small part of this equation, though. Jaden McDaniels was out for last year’s first round with a broken hand. He, Anthony Edwards, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have done an outstanding job on Murray and deserve a ton of credit for their point-of-attack defense.

The two-man game between Jokic and Murray has been contained because of how good McDaniels and Alexander-Walker in particular are at getting around screens. Having Rudy Gobert lurking in the paint helps too, although the Wolves didn’t even need him in Game 2 while he attended to the birth of his child.

That trio has visibly overwhelmed Murray, as they did against the Suns’ big three in the previous round. 

The other noteworthy part of Minnesota’s defense is their physicality. They do an excellent job of directing cutters, maintaining contact and bumping Denver while they try to go to their movement sets. That has disrupted Murray in particular. Referees have allowed much more contact as the season has gone on, and Minnesota’s bruising defense has benefited from that change. 

Making matters even worse for the Nuggets is that backup point guard Reggie Jackson exited Game 2 with an ankle injury. If he’s not good to go, then even more rests on the shoulders of Murray figuring out how to beat this defense. He has not had any answers yet.

MORE: Nickeil Alexander-Walker is biggest X-factor in Timberwolves’ title hopes

It is stunning that Jokic has been held to only 24.0 points per game on 42.1 percent shooting from the field in this series. He shot 58.3 percent from the field during the regular season and almost never had a bad game. 

There were warning signs that this could happen. The Timberwolves held Jokic to 48.5 percent from the field in last year’s series. Gobert is obviously a handful as the presumptive Defensive Player of the Year. Having him play a roaming role off Aaron Gordon has made Jokic settle for tougher fadeaway shots rather than his usual bully ball at the rim. 

The Wolves have been able to get away with that strategy because of how well KAT, Naz Reid, and even Kyle Anderson have held up as the primary defenders on Jokic. He hasn’t been able to overcome the swarming size of Minnesota. 

That strategy of throwing bodies at Jokic usually doesn’t work. His unstoppable counter is having Aaron Gordon as a lob threat. Minnesota wasn’t able to take that away as effectively with Kyle Anderson in place of Gobert in Game 2. But with Gobert, that play loses much of its effectiveness. He is one of the only players in the league capable of changing Jokic’s shot while simultaneously recovering to Gordon. No team has the size of Minnesota, and it’s proving to be Denver’s kryptonite.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will receive All-Defensive team votes and might sneak onto the second team. He’s had no chance against Edwards, who has backed him down easily for buckets. The Nuggets have tried Aaron Gordon at times, but Edwards has blown by him. Ant has averaged 35.0 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting from the field and been the best player in this series by a mile.

In addition to that strength, Edwards has been on a tear from 3, making 41.9 percent of them during the playoffs. Good luck trying to stop him when he’s hitting over two defenders and giving opponents the MJ shrug. 

The Nuggets don’t have a one-on-one defender capable of staying with Ant, and they don’t have a rim protector when he gets past the first line of defense. He has absolutely torched Jokic back there. 

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