Andrew LopezESPN3 minutes of reading
MINNEAPOLIS — After the Denver Nuggets defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 3 of their first-round series on Friday night, their focus turned to doing something they had never accomplished in franchise history: a playoff sweep.
The Nuggets’ 120-111 victory gave them a 3-0 series lead and put them in position to finish the job on Sunday.
“Up 3-0, our mindset right now — no disrespect to the T-Wolves because it’s 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 idea that the Nuggets didn’t need to win Game 3, saying it made no sense to him.
“We don’t want to give them life,” Jokic said. “We wanted to be the aggressor. We wanted to punch them first. We wanted them to react to us. That was our plan. I think we did a good job.”
If Denver wins Game 4, it will be the first sweep in franchise playoff history of any length. It was the second time the Nuggets went up 3-0 in a series against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2009 conference semifinals. They dropped Game 4 in Dallas before bouncing back and ending the streak in Game 5.
LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Timberwolves — The Nuggets are one of four franchises in franchise history without a series sweep, joining the LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Timberwolves — looking to avoid a seven-game sweep for the first time.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game to close out a series that many times,” Malone said. “I’m sure we’ll find a way. Let’s not have the mindset of, ‘Hey, we can go back and close it out in Denver.’ Our mindset has to be to close it out in Game 4.
Minnesota started the game as the aggressor and built an early lead, feeding off the energy of the sold-out Target Center crowd. However, late in the quarter, Denver tied the score and controlled the game the rest of the way.
“We knew what we had to do,” Nuggets guard Jamaal Murray said. “They came out aggressive. They’re coming out the way they should be. I think we 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, including both Christian Brown, who had nine points, and Jeff Green, who had eight.
Porter praised the team’s depth for continuing to play at a high level even if Jokic had to sit out.
“I think Aaron [Gordon] And Jeff gives us a versatile lineup, which we didn’t see a lot in the regular season, but it works well for us because we can switch from one to five and then we try to make stops and run,” Porter said. “The offense looks a little different when Jok isn’t out there, but We are working on it. We’ve got a lot of guys 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 made more free throws himself (15) than attempted as a team (13). Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
Edwards became the fourth player in NBA history to reach 30 points in consecutive playoff games at age 21 or younger, joining LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant. Edwards has scored 77 combined points over his past two playoff games, trailing only James (83 and 79) in NBA history by players 21 years of age or younger.
Senior guard Mike Conley said Friday’s loss was disappointing. Minnesota made it a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to five three times in the final six minutes, but couldn’t close the gap.
“Guys played hard,” Conley said. “There were some breakdowns here and there. They really let us get some space there. Overall, we relied on a lot of different guys to come into the game and give us minutes, and that’s one we did. I’d love to get back.”