NBA: Timberwolves crush Nuggets, Brunson fires Knicks at Pacers

NBA: Timberwolves crush Nuggets, Brunson fires Knicks at Pacers

The Minnesota Timberwolves produced a dominant defensive performance to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series against the Denver Nuggets with a 106-80 road victory on Monday.

The third-seeded Timberwolves relentlessly harassed Denver to claim a second straight victory over the NBA champions as the series returns to Minneapolis for game three on Friday.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards each scored 27 points, but the star of the show was Minnesota’s suffocating defensive effort, which shut down Denver almost from the tip.

The Timberwolves finished with 11 steals and 12 blocks, in stark contrast to Denver, who posted just six steals and five blocks.

Remarkably, Minnesota’s dominance was achieved without Rudy Gobert, the Frenchman who is one of the defensive pillars of the Timberwolves lineup.

Gobert skipped the game to be with his partner after the birth of the couple’s son earlier Monday.

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“If you don’t win Defensive Player of the Year, you have to step up your game,” Towns said afterward.

“We all understood the challenge against the defending champions, a very good team, with some of the best players the game has ever seen.

“We just wanted to come here and find a way to win the game.”

The normally unflappable Nuggets may also be without star point guard Jamal Murray for game three.

Murray was caught on camera throwing a heat pack at the court in the second quarter, raising the possibility of a suspension when the incident was reviewed by the NBA’s disciplinary chiefs.

That incident was emblematic of the Nuggets’ woes in a game where Minnesota was in control after jumping to a 28-20 lead at the end of the first quarter.

In a disastrous second quarter for Denver, they were outscored 33-15 by Minneapolis, leaving the Timberwolves up 61-35 at halftime.

Minnesota’s rock-solid defense never looked like giving up that advantage in the second half and the visitor raced to a 32-point lead early in the third quarter and left Denver’s Ball Arena in stunned silence.

Denver coach Michael Malone admitted: “We just got beat up in our building and we got embarrassed in front of our fans.

“The good thing is we don’t play until Friday, so we have a chance to get away and think about what we want to do in the future,” Malone added.

“I’m not worried about anything other than trying to win game three.”

Brilliant Brunson

In Monday’s other playoff game, Jalen Brunson had a sparkling fourth quarter as the New York Knicks defeated the Indiana Pacers 121-117 in their Eastern Conference opener.

Knicks talisman Brunson finished with 43 points, six rebounds and six assists to give New York the early lead in their best-of-seven conference semifinal.

But it was his ice-cold performance that lifted New York to victory in front of 19,812 fans in an electric Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks guard scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, completing his fourth straight playoff game with 40 points or more.

Donte DiVincenzo supported Brunson with 25 points, while Josh Hart had a monster performance with 24 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a block.

Myles Turner led the Pacers with 23 points, while Pascal Siakam added 19.

“That’s what you love about Jalen,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after the win.

“I could go on and on about him, but what I like about him is that he is all about the team.

“All he cares about is winning. And he cares about his teammates, and ultimately he will provide whatever we need.

“But I think the same can be said for all the guys.”

Brunson was the difference in a close battle in which neither side managed to gain more than a single-digit lead over four quarters.

The Pacers opened a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Knicks roared back to lead 113-109 on Brunson’s put-back jumper with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left.

DiVincenzo also came up with a huge clutch play with 40 seconds left, nailing a 3-pointer from 28 feet to put New York ahead 118-115.

Indiana pulled within one at 118-117, but a hard offensive foul against Turner on DiVincenzo with 13 seconds left proved decisive.

Game two takes place on Wednesday in New York.