Nuggets know physicality, stopping Edwards' supporting cast are keys to tying series with Wolves

DENVER (AP) — The reigning NBA champions could be facing an early exit if they don't bring more urgency and physicality into their series with Minnesota.

While Anthony Edwards was leading Minnesota's efficient offense, the Timberwolves' trio of towers hounded MVP favorite Nikola Jokic into 14 missed shots and seven turnovers in their 106-99 win in Game 1.

The rotation of Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid confounded Jokic and underscored the Wolves' deeper bench, bigger lineup and more physical approach in the opener.

Jokic will have to figure out a way to counter that terrific trio in Game 2 on Monday night in order to send the series to Minneapolis knotted up.

Answers don't come easily.

“To have a duplicate clone of myself,” Jokic cracked after pondering the riddle for several seconds. “And then I can ... be fresh when they sub another guy.”

It'll be a serious matter come tipoff Monday night.

“Well, there's only one Nikola Jokic,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Sunday. "Obviously, everything he brings to the table on both ends of the floor is pretty unique, so as far as asking someone else on our roster to go in there and do what Nikola does may be a stretch.

“But what's not a stretch is for anybody to go into the game and play with a lot more physicality, play with a lot more urgency, play with a lot more discipline."

All were lacking as the Nuggets lost a Game 1 for the first time in two years.

“Now it's a new challenge,” Malone said. “So, let's embrace that. We are down, didn't want to be, but we are. So, let's fight like hell tomorrow night and leave it all out there.”

If only the Nuggets could get a healthier version of point guard Jamal Murray, who was rusty and still bothered by his strained left calf Saturday night, going scoreless in the first half and getting targeted repeatedly after halftime by the Wolves' pick-and-rolls that produced so many good looks.

Murray said everybody's fighting through ailments this time of year and he's no different, but he insisted he'll be fine for Game 2 after logging 35 minutes in Game 1.

The Wolves shot 71% in the second half and snatched a page from Denver's playbook by using an 8-0 spurt to break open the back-and-forth game in the closing minutes.

“Just watching the league the whole season, Denver is THE best team at executing down the stretch,” Wolves guard Kyle Anderson said Sunday. "They do such a good job. It's like uncanny at times, they're so good down the stretch. We were able to execute offensively and defensively. It was pretty impressive because you're so used to watching Denver pull out the win.”

Also Monday night, the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks renew their storied rivalry as they open their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series at Madison Square Garden.


Timberwolves lead 1-0. Game 2, 10 p.m., TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Nuggets realize a faster start will be their best counter to the athletic and loaded Timberwolves lineup. They've trailed by big margins in the first quarter of all six of their playoff games and allowed Minnesota to get off to an 18-4 start in Game 1. No more cruising, no more pacing was the message during film review Sunday. “We have to do a better job, and our starters in particular have to do a better job of being ready to play and setting a tone early," Malone said. "What are we waiting for?”

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Edwards' supporting cast that came up so big in the second half, which was a bigger thorn in Malone's side than Edwards' 43 points. "This may sound strange but he's going to get his,” Malone said. “But you look at the third quarter. Mike Conley had 11 points, did not miss a shot, Karl-Anthony Towns had 11 points, did not miss a shot. Fourth quarter, Naz Reid had 14 points, went 6 for 7. Those are the guys that we have to find a way to shut down.”

INJURY WATCH: Murray's strained left calf robbed him of his usual burst to the basket and explosion off the dribble. His zero points at halftime marked his first scoreless half in 59 career playoff games.

PRESSURE IS ON: The Nuggets. They have to even things up before the series shifts to Minneapolis or this could indeed be an early exit for the defending champs, who would need to beat Edwards four times in five tries otherwise.