Four Keys to Minnesota Timberwolves Taking Series Back from Nuggets

Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves have started round two of the Western Conference Playoffs in a way almost no one saw coming. Entering as slight underdogs against the defending champs, they surprised the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 before throttling them in Game 2.

Then dropping both games at home, it’s now a best of three series begging someone to defend home court. In their Game 2 matchup against the Denver Nuggets, Chris Finch and Micah Nori had the Minnesota Timberwolves ready to go despite being without Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

The new father wasn’t able to make a plane to Denver, and Minnesota found themselves shorthanded. Executing on keys to victory in that contest, the Timberwolves trailed by just two while building a lead that ultimately reached 32 points.

The game plan didn’t work so well in either Game 3 or Game 4, and Minnesota will need to spend time figuring out where it went wrong. If they want to replicate that excellence in Game 5, here are four keys to a Timberwolves victory.

Make Nikola Jokic Run

In the first game of the series it was apparent that Nikola Jokic wasn’t ready for the battle of athleticism that he was in for. Minnesota decided to put the smaller Karl-Anthony Towns on the reigning MVP, and what he lacked in size, he made up for in athleticism.

Related: Nikola Jokic Already Sounds Exhausted by Timberwolves’ Defense, Depth

Certainly it helped to have Rudy Gobert protecting the rim on the back side, but Jokic was running ragged all game long. As long as KAT can continue to avoid foul trouble, he presents a matchup nightmare for Jokic.

Making him move around the court and forcing him to be constantly engaged from an athleticism standpoint, the size advantage works against the Nuggets big and right into the Timberwolves hands. While Jokic is certainly going to get his on a game-by-game basis, mitigating his excellence is something that Minnesota can focus on.

Frustrate Jamal Murray

Defense has been a calling card for Minnesota all season long. As the best defensive team in the NBA, it isn’t just one player getting the job done. Yes, Gobert is the big name in the paint, but Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have been stifling on guards. Anthony Edwards has locked in and no position is given the freedom to dribble.

The Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was clearly flustered during Game 2 when he hurled a heating pack onto the court. Somehow that choice wasn’t handed a suspension. Taking away opportunities for him to operate freely will reflect in the box score and on the court.

Both Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaden McDaniels struggled in the two home tilts for Minnesota, and the former was the one frustrated. Those tables have to turn.

Related: Nickeil Alexander-Walker Explains His Technical

Minnesota Timberwolves need a second scorer

As he has much of the season, Edwards has been the draw to stir the Timberwolves drink. Executing on their keys to victory will again include him getting his. After 43 in Game 1, he followed by matching Karl Anthony Towns with 27 in Game 2. Pouring in a ridiculous 44 during Game 4, it was literally Edwards and no one else.

Related: Anthony Edwards’ Kicks Are Living in the Limelight

We haven’t seen McDaniels or Conley show up substantially yet in the box score, and Gobert has only played in three of the four games. This series could have been about Towns figuring out a way to show he’s ready for the big stage, but he has wilted under pressure more often than not, and in the most significant way during Game 4.

Cause Frustration but Avoid It

It’s clear that the Nuggets weren’t expecting to be in this position, and Murray’s antics during Game 2 suggest they are susceptible to cracking. As tensions run high, especially if the Timberwolves can execute on their keys to victory and push a lead early in Game 5, they’ll need to carry their composure.

The goal should be to frustrate the Nuggets into poor possessions and turnovers. Ideally that would translate into long runs for Minnesota. No matter what the case ends up being, Finch and Nori have to keep their squad dialed in and not allow emotion to take hold of the moment. Minnesota is in position to do something special, and remaining focused on that goal is a must.

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