Wolves hammer Nuggets by 45 to force Game 7

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MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Edwards scored 27 points to pull the Minnesota Timberwolves out of their mid-series slump and deliver a flawless 115-70 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night to force a Game 7 in this roller-coaster playoff matchup.

The 45-point win is the largest ever against a defending champion in playoff history, and the second-largest when facing elimination in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Denver trailed by as many as 50 points, their largest deficit in any game over the past 25 seasons (regular season and playoffs).

Jaden McDaniels pitched in 21 points and lockdown defense, and Mike Conley had 13 points in his return from injury. Big men Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid combined for 38 rebounds and a relentless effort to keep NBA MVP Nikola Jokic to a relatively quiet 22 points.

The decisive game for a spot in the Western Conference finals is in Denver on Sunday night.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, history suggests Thursday night’s blowout loss doesn’t necessarily spell doom for Denver. The Nuggets are the fifth team in NBA history to lose Game 6 by 30 or more points to force a Game 7. Three of the previous four teams bounced back to win Game 7, most recently in the 1996 Western Conference finals, when the then Seattle Sonics lost by 35 in Game 6 to the Utah Jazz before going on to win the series.

Jamal Murray struggled again with just 10 points on 4-for-18 shooting for the Nuggets, whose bench was outscored 36-9 – and seven of those points came in the final five minutes. The Wolves reserves led a 24-0 run in the fourth quarter to take a staggering 49-point lead, a fitting follow-up to the 20-0 surge the starters led in the opening frame.

Aaron Gordon had 12 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets, who finished just 7 for 36 from 3-point range and trailed by at least 17 points for the last 31 minutes of the game.

For the Wolves, offense from McDaniels is typically a bonus, but he can’t be as quiet as he was over the first five games with a total of 35 points. He was all over the court this time, going 3-of-5 from deep and mixing in some well-timed dunks to ignite the crowd.

Edwards, whose 44-point performance was ultimately wasted in a Game 4 loss the last time he played at Target Center, had that tenacious look of a superstar player refusing to cede the series. He had nine points in the 20-0 spurt and needed only nine shots from the floor to get 19 points in the first half.

In the third quarter, he turned a steal into a fast break before using two crossover dribbles to get Michael Porter Jr. in the air and blow by him for a dunk. A few minutes later, he drove past Porter to draw a foul and landed hard on his back. The Wolves called timeout to give Edwards more time to catch his breath, and when he walked back on the court without missing time the “MVP!” chants fired up.

As a fourth-quarter timeout signaled the start of empty-the-bench time, Edwards helped up seven fingers to the adoring crowd in anticipation of what was coming next.

The Wolves were frequently in disarray on offense during Game 5 in Denver while Conley sat out with soreness in his right calf muscle, and the 17-year veteran point guard clearly helped keep the half-court sets crisp and organized in his return.

The Wolves held the Nuggets to 14 points in the first quarter, tied for the second-lowest total in the league this postseason behind Miami (12 points) in a Game 3 loss to Boston in the first round.

Murray had a devil of a time doing anything productive against McDaniels and the rest of the NBA-leading defense that snapped to life after revealing some sizeable cracks over the previous three games.

Murray, who had a 3-for-18 clunker in Game 2, tried everything from leaners, fadeaways and spot-up 3-pointers. He even air-balled a finger roll from the baseline, then got backed down in a bad matchup by Naz Reid in the post on the subsequent possession for a flip-in that put the Wolves up 43-24.

McDaniels tipped in a missed 3-pointer by Reid at the halftime buzzer to make it 59-40, a sharp contrast from the 55-foot swish Murray had at the end of the second quarter in Game 3 to cap an 8-0 run over 20 pivotal seconds of that contest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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