MINNEAPOLIS — After the Denver Nuggets defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 3 of their first-round series on Friday night, their focus shifted to doing something that has never been accomplished in franchise history: a playoff sweep.
The Nuggets’ 120-111 win gave them a 3-0 series lead, putting them in position to finish the job on Sunday.
“Up 3-0, our mindset right now is — no disrespect to the T-Wolves because this is about us — but we don’t want to go back to Denver,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who finished with 20 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds for his seventh career triple-double, said Denver didn’t want to take its foot off the gas after taking the first two games of the series at home. He scoffed at the notion that the Nuggets didn’t need to win Game 3, saying it didn’t make any sense to him.
“We didn’t wanna give them life,” Jokic said. “We wanted to be the aggressor. We wanted to punch them first. They need to react to us. That was our plan. I think we did a good job.”
If Denver wins Game 4, it would be the first sweep in franchise playoff history in a series of any length. This is only the second time the Nuggets have been up 3-0 in a series, going back to the 2009 conference semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks. They dropped Game 4 in Dallas before bouncing back and finishing off the series in Game 5.
The Nuggets are one of four franchises without a series sweep in their franchise history, joining the LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and the Timberwolves — who are looking to avoid being swept for the first time in a seven-game series.
“We know to close out a series a lot of times can be the hardest game,” Malone said. “I’m hoping that we can find a way. Don’t have a mindset of ‘Hey, we can just go back and close it in Denver.’ Our mindset should be to close it in Game 4.”
Minnesota started the game as the aggressor and fed off the energy of the sold-out Target Center crowd to build an early lead. However, by the end of the quarter, Denver had tied the score and controlled the game the rest of the way.
“We knew what we had to do,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said. “They came out aggressive. They come out how they were supposed to. I think we just did a good job of handling the pressure and settling down.”
Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 25 points and added nine rebounds. Six Nuggets scored in double figures, and the two who didn’t were Christian Braun, who had nine points, and Jeff Green, who had eight.
Porter praised the depth of the team to be able to continue to play at a high level even when Jokic has to sit.
“I think Aaron [Gordon] and Jeff out there give us a very versatile lineup that we didn’t see a whole lot during the regular season, but it’s working great for us because we can just switch one through five, and then we just try to get stops and run,” Porter said. “The offense looks a little bit different when Jok isn’t out there, but we’ve been making it work. We just got a lot of dudes who can do a lot of different things.”
The Timberwolves put together a much better all-around effort than they did in Games 1 or 2, but it wasn’t enough.
Anthony Edwards finished with 36 points and shot more free throws himself (15) than the Nuggets attempted as a team (13). Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
Edwards became just the fourth player in NBA history with 30 points in consecutive playoff games at age 21 or younger, joining LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant. Edwards has 77 combined points in his past two playoff games, surpassed only by James (83 and 79) by players age 21 or younger in NBA history.
Veteran guard Mike Conley said Friday’s loss was frustrating. Minnesota made it a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to five on three occasions in the final six minutes, but could never close the gap.
“Guys played hard,” Conley said. “Had some breakdowns here and there. They really allowed them to get some space down there down the stretch. As a whole, we relied on a lot of different guys to come in the game and give us minutes, and this is one that we would love to have back.”