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Timberwolves pull off historic comeback, end Nuggets' reign


The Timberwolves overcome a 20-point deficit in Denver to close out the defending champions in Game 7.

• Download the NBA App• Game detail: MIN 98, DEN 90

DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets couldn’t quiet an epic second-half comeback by Minnesota or the noise emanating from a boisterous Timberwolves locker room.

It was a thunderous and stinging reminder of the obvious — their reign as champions was over, and much sooner than expected.

The young and confident Timberwolves came into Denver’s house and spoiled the party by eliminating the Nuggets with a 98-90 win Sunday night in Game 7 of their second-round series. Minnesota overcame a 20-point deficit to make the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2004.

“No one ever said this was going to be easy trying to repeat,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

The Nuggets became the fifth straight reigning champion to fail to reach the conference finals in their quest to repeat. As Malone answered questions following the game, the vibrations from the Timberwolves’ rowdy locker room celebration echoed from down the hall.

Malone started off terse in talking about the emotions after losing a game in which they led by 20 points. It’s the biggest comeback in Game 7 history in the play-by-play era (1997-98), according to the NBA.

“The season’s over. That’s what’s hard,” Malone said.

Everything was going according to plan, too, with Jamal Murray hitting a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 58-38 early in the third quarter. The fans erupted, the building was loud and the celebration appeared to be beginning.

But it didn’t rattle the Timberwolves, who methodically climbed back into the game. It was due to their swarming defense and their star player, Anthony Edwards, finding just enough offense — 16 points on 6-for-24 shooting — and help from his teammates. Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaden McDaniels each scored 23 points and Naz Reid came up big again in the fourth quarter.

The Wolves pull off the largest comeback in Game 7 history with a confident, collected, total team effort.

Really, though, it boiled down to not over-thinking things for the Timberwolves, who were held to 39.2% shooting from the floor but made up for it with menacing defense that was the league’s best all season.

“We were trying to over-orchestrate match-ups and mismatches and all that sort of stuff and played right into their hands,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “We just had to get back to moving the ball. Even when we were down, I kept looking at the field-goal percentage and we were in the 40s and 30s, and our defense was there. It went to a special place in that third quarter.”

They went on a 37-14 run to take a lead in the fourth quarter they wouldn’t relinquish. In that stretch, the Nuggets struggled from everywhere on the floor. Nothing was easy.

It was that sort of season-ending night. Murray, three-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. were a combined 7 of 28 from 3-point range.

Porter, in particular, struggled all series as he finished 26 of 70 from the floor over the seven-game series after an outstanding showing against the Lakers in the first round. He had seven points Sunday.

“We just did not make enough shots in this series, Michael included, but he wasn’t the only one,” Malone said.

Jokic had a simplistic explanation.

“They played good defense,” he said.

Malone echoed that thought, then threw in another.

“This feeling sucks,” he said. “That’s what I told our players — we go from training camp all the way through, and then it comes to an abrupt halt. That hurts.”

It may have been the cumulative effect on a difficult season catching up to the Nuggets. They played into June in winning their first NBA title, then dealt with injuries to Murray throughout the regular season and got everyone’s best shot as the defending champions. Down the stretch, they couldn’t rest players like a year before because they tried to earn the top seed in the West again. They tied a franchise mark with 57 wins but lost the tiebreaker to Oklahoma City, settling for the No. 2 seed as Minnesota slipped to No. 3.

That ensured Game 7 was in Denver on Sunday night, where Malone was certain the home crowd would make a difference.

The Wolves quieted both the Nuggets and their fans with their third win in Denver.

“iI’s hard because the teams are hungrier, better talented than last year probably,” said Jokic, who had 34 points and 19 rebounds. “Everybody wants to beat us.”

Jokic took a pragmatic stance on what it’s going to take for the Nuggets to be in the running for another title.

“Some teams never win a championship again,” Jokic said. “I’m just glad we had an opportunity this year. We will see.”

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