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Monday, May 13, 2024

Jokic Scores 16 Fourth Quarter Points as Nuggets Tame Timberwolves and Tie Series at 2-2

Remember all of that talk just a few days ago about the implications of the Minnesota Timberwolves sweeping the Denver Nuggets? The Nuggets silenced that noise by winning game three in Minnesota on Friday night, and the Nuggets regained homecourt advantage with a 115-107 win in Minnesota on Sunday night. The Nuggets shot .570 from the field and logged assists on 29 of their 45 field goals made in a brilliant display of efficient offensive basketball. 

As usual, Nikola Jokic led the way. The three-time regular season MVP scored 35 points on 15-26 field goal shooting while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing for seven assists. Jokic professed indifference regarding critics who questioned his selection as the 2024 NBA regular season MVP, but his fourth quarter play was anything but indifferent: he scored 16 points on 6-10 field goal shooting while playing all 12 minutes. Jokic is the hub of Denver's offense: when he is guarded one on one he scores at a very efficient rate, and when he is trapped he not only gives up the ball willingly but he makes the right pass even if that does not led to him getting the assist--in contrast to some players who hold the ball because they are more focused on getting an assist than on making the right play for the team.

Aaron Gordon made a major contribution with 27 points on 11-12 field goal shooting while also snaring seven rebounds, and passing for six assists. Denver's successful counter to Minnesota's pressure defense against Jamal Murray is to have Gordon bring the ball up and initiate the offense. Murray added 19 points and a team-high eight assists. Chrisitan Braun (11 points) and Justin Holiday (10 points) made strong contributions off of the bench.

Anthony Edwards made good on his vow after game three to be more aggressive and more effective in game four, pouring in a game-high 44 points on 16-25 field goal shooting. He had five rebounds and five assists. Edwards is a wonderful player, and it would be nice if media members gave him the space to blossom into the best version of himself as opposed to forcing comparisons with all-time greats like Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade. Jordan won six championships, six Finals MVPs, five regular season MVPs, and 10 scoring titles. Wade won three championships, one Finals MVP, and one scoring title. Edwards just won his first playoff series, so from an accomplishment standpoint the comparisons are an insult to the established legends--and from a skill set standpoint, Edwards relies on the outside shot much more than Jordan or Wade did.

Five Minnesota players joined Edwards as double figure scorers: Mike Conley (15 points, game-high nine assists), Karl Anthony-Towns (13 points, 12 rebounds), Rudy Gobert (11 points, 14 rebounds), Jaden McDaniels (11 points), and Naz Reid (11 points). However--and as the TNT studio crew correctly pointed out at halftime and after the game--the Timberwolves need more from Towns, who shot just 5-18 from the field. 

The Timberwolves reverted to their old habit of squandering too many possessions with dumb plays at crucial moments. This game--and perhaps this series--turned on a bizarre sequence in the final 20.2 seconds of the first half. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drilled a three pointer to put Denver up 59-49, and Minnesota had an opportunity to hold the ball for the last shot--but Jokic stole the ball from Edwards and made a precise outlet pass to Michael Porter Jr. for a dunk. Nickeil Alexander-Walker''s long inbounds pass was then stolen by Murray, who sank a halfcourt three pointer just before time expired. There is often a lot of talk about "clutch points" and about what happens in a game's closing moments, but the wild conclusion of the first half when Denver scored eight points in 20.2 seconds provided the game's final margin. It is important to emphasize that many players in Murray's position would have preserved their field goal percentage by making sure to not heave the ball until after the buzzer sounded; taking that low percentage shot to help the team at the possible cost of individual statistics speaks volumes about how the Nuggets' mentality differs from the mentality of many other NBA teams.

After the game, Minnesota Coach Chris Finch described the debacle at the end of the first half as a series of "inexcusable plays" and flatly stated the root cause for the loss: "We lost our composure." He is correct on both counts, and it is interesting how numbers do not always tell the full story. Denver committed one more turnover than Minnesota (12-11), and Minnesota only committed one more foul than Denver (21-20), but if you watched the game with understanding you saw how costly Minnesota's miscues were based on score, time, and overall game situation. For example, Towns wasted a foul 50 feet away from the hoop by bumping Jokic at midcourt when the Nuggets were not threatening to score; that kind of play moves the other team closer to the bonus without conferring any kind of advantage such as stopping an advantage fast break or preventing a player from converting an easy shot at close range. Not all fouls are created equal (and the same can be said for most statistics, which is one reason why "advanced basketball statistics" are not nearly as accurate or meaningful as "stat gurus" suggest, because numbers taken out of the context of situational basketball can be deceptive). 

The Timberwolves have improved a lot in the past year, and they have taken strides toward becoming a legit contender, but the final step for them is to clean up their handling of situational basketball at both ends of the court. On paper, they controlled the series after taking a 2-0 series lead with back to back wins at Denver, but now in this tied race to four wins the Nuggets hold the advantage of hosting game five and game seven (if necessary). The home team has yet to win a game during this series, but that is likely to change in the pivotal game five at Denver, because after receiving a wake-up call in the first two games the Nuggets understand the level of energy and physicality required to deal with the Timberwolves. The Timberwolves are not a team that can be toyed with like the L.A. Lakers, and in the last two games the Nuggets have stepped up to the challenge.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:44 AM



At Monday, May 13, 2024 10:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Lenda

This is being a very fun series and I'm looking forward for the next game where I very much doubt that Gordon will be as good or KAT as bad. I believe that, in the end, the Nuggets will prevail, even though I prefer the team from Minnesota. As I told you before, I absolutely agree with your take on AE, let him be him before comparing him to anyone else. I do feel he is special and he is certainly my favourite player right now (not the best, just my favourite), his style of play and intensity is just awesome to see and his game is developing in a very interesting way. As for Jokic, he creates out of nothing and Murray certainly felt that he had to step up his game...and so he did. An outstanding duo with an amazing team and coach sorrounding them. I fell like this won't go to seven games and that the winner of the next game will win the series. Hope it's Minnesota but reason tells me it will be Denver.

At Monday, May 13, 2024 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Hi David,

Karl Anthony-Towns is not a bad player but it is pretty clear he is not nearly as good as his regular season numbers would imply. He has previously been a "25-10-5" player, to quote an old KG commercial, and a lot of advanced stats metrics questionably said that he was a Top 5 player at times based on the fact that he was a 7 footer who could shoot the 3 at a high rate.

In the playoffs, each year, it becomes apparent though that he is a) sloppy and careless with the ball, b) struggles to score outside of chucking up 3 point shots or easy layups, and c) loses focus defensively and mentally as a series progresses.

Anthony-Towns and the Wolves were an "up-and-coming" team for nearly 8 years before the arrival/emergence of Edwards. It is not a coincidence that the arrival of Edwards was much bigger factor in the Wolves becoming competitive than pretty much all of KAT's tenure. I question how far they can go with him being the second option on offense.

At Monday, May 13, 2024 3:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Karl Anthony towns and gobert trash David

Denver showed championship mettle after crying the first 2 games

Aaron Gordon got 5 straight series with at least 20 point game. He always plays well

Jokic and Murray are great. They got contribution from bench holiday Braun etc.

But the best player to me In this series been Anthony Edwards

He is a legit number 1 option.

And he is the future best player in the NBA

What Tatum melo ja zion is supposed to be he is.

He got that Jordan Kobe lebron type will and smooth dominance to his game.

He is the future guy

At Monday, May 13, 2024 4:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

A Lenda,

Individual player performances (Gordon, Towns) will vary from game to game but the overall matchup advantages remain constant. I see no reason to regret my initial prediction of Nuggets in six.

At Monday, May 13, 2024 4:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Garnett never sniffed a championship until he went to a team with two late-game closers: Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Towns is not even as good as Garnett, so it is fair to say that he will not win a title without being paired with an effective closer. Edwards looks like he could be that guy, but right now he has won one playoff series in his career. It takes four playoff series wins in one year to win a championship.

At Monday, May 13, 2024 5:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Gobert and Towns are not "trash." They are excellent players, as can be seen by their team's overall performance this season and by their individual productivity.

Jokic is the best player in the league and the best player in this series because he has a major impact as a scorer, rebounder, and passer, and he also has some impact on defense by virtue of his physical presence and his rebounding.

Tatum has led his team to one NBA Finals and four Eastern Conference Finals, numbers that will both likely increase in the next few weeks. Edwards has won one playoff series. I have never understood the incessant rush to crown someone as "next." Let's just see what happens not just this season but over the next few seasons. I like Edwards' game and have nothing bad to say about him, but I see no reason to vault him above all current players and place him on the same level as MJ and Kobe. There is not nearly enough evidence to support that.


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