Home Sports The Nuggets respond to the challenge and show fight as defending champions: ‘The boys answered the bell’

The Nuggets respond to the challenge and show fight as defending champions: ‘The boys answered the bell’

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Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and guard Jamal Murray (27) high-five each other during the second half of game three of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, on Friday, May 10, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

MINNEAPOLIS – The Denver Nuggets broke through and won the NBA championship last year in large part because they were hungrier than all their opponents, realizing these opportunities are rare.

They cannot replicate that singular feeling, but what every champion acquires through triumph is almost arrogance, stubbornness, and an unwillingness to give in to adverse circumstances.

Maybe it was that championship arrogance that kicked in when the Nuggets got on the plane to Minneapolis after shockingly losing two home games, having to sit in their own slump for four days, having their mettle repeatedly challenged by their coach and be doubted by The world of basketball.

It took a while, but the champions finally showed their form on Friday inside an electric and party-filled Target Center, taking a decisive shot across the Minnesota Timberwolves’ goal with a resounding 117-90 victory.

That makes three wins in this series for the road teams in three games, and if that trend continues on Sunday, the Nuggets will have regained home field advantage. The prospect of that seemed bleak after Monday’s embarrassment, when the hungry Timberwolves attacked the Nuggets like they were dinner.

The Nuggets produced their best performance of the postseason, in an atmosphere that required it since this was the most important game in Minneapolis in 20 years.

Jamal Murray is probably the epitome of the Nuggets’ challenge. He has never participated in an All-Star Game and uses it. A few years ago, long before he became a champion, he so enraged Kyrie Irving by going after a 50-point game that Irving threw the ball into the stands to prevent Murray from getting the ball.

Being defiant when you’re a basketball teenager may be considered innocent, but when you’re a champion, visiting crowds want your blood, especially when you’re not suspended. Murray knew he had to respond after he threw a cooler bag that landed on the ground in Game 2, resulting in a hefty fine but no other disciplinary action.

Murray took his new lease on life and gave the Nuggets an extra lifeline, taking the four days of rest on his injured calf and using it to his advantage.

He jumped around the court, received Public Enemy boos from the crowd, and looked like the best version of himself, scoring 24 with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Nikola Jokić will lift his third MVP trophy before the crowd on Tuesday in a Game 5, and rightly so, but the Nuggets can’t afford to rely solely on him for inspiration and shot creation.

“Maybe that’s (Murray’s) leadership, taking pressure on himself, he likes that,” said Jokić, who overcame a slow statistical start to score 24 points with 14 rebounds and 9 assists.

Murray, who grew up a Raptors fan, remembers Vince Carter being booed in Toronto after a bitter exchange with the franchise. He was emotional and ugly, but Murray still said he cheered Carter on and remembered that he had a great game.

By comparison, that day they were 39 at much lower stakes.

“I like to cherish that moment,” Murray said. “It just makes you have to focus and be there for your teammates. I accept that challenge. “I appreciate that moment, but I probably deserve the boos.”

Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaden McDaniels harassed him early in the series, and that’s when Anthony Edwards wasn’t in his face. Jokić had to deal with Naz Reid following him on the court, along with Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns to start the games.

Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray were locked in during the third game. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

It wasn’t necessarily that they played softly in the first two games, but the Timberwolves dictated every term of the engagement that it was fair to wonder if the Nuggets would fight back, put their foot down and not be moved.

That’s why Nuggets coach Michael Malone had a two-minute video recorded of every talking head, every pundit and analyst claiming the Nuggets were done and would be swept, and debated showing it to his team before taking the flight. to Minneapolis.

And it wasn’t just the world of basketball, the call came from within the house. It seems like Malone could fight if he could, he would fight if he had to, and he challenged his team to actually fight.

Heck, he even got into a verbal argument with a Timberwolves fan on Friday night.

“You’re always testing and discovering human nature and what men are made of,” Malone said. “All the talking heads in this country. Say the series is over. The Nuggets are finished. It’s a wrap. They are toasted. Minnesota is a better team. All the great personalities, you know who they are.

“But I didn’t want to show it because most of the time I don’t give a damn what they say. But I knew this might strike a chord within you. … If that doesn’t resonate with you as a competitor, I don’t know what will, so yeah, the guys answered the bell.”

He asked veteran center DeAndre Jordan for his opinion, and Jordan agreed. Turns out Jordan put him in a group chat with the team.

Malone wanted to know who still believed and who could play hard when his team was struggling physically. If the Timberwolves have the advantage in length and quickness, the Nuggets certainly have it in girth.

Many times, Jokić caught defenders off guard running around screens to free up space for Murray and Michael Porter Jr., who had a field day of open shooting, resulting in the Nuggets shooting 48 percent from range. of 3 points and 54 percent in total.

The Timberwolves came into Friday’s contest expecting a coronation, and it’s human nature to see why. His defense was dominant and fueled his offense in the first two games, but things changed dramatically.

It would be difficult for even the oldest team to block out the praise, particularly after the Game 2 defensive display that reminded observers of the Bad Boys Pistons or Michael Jordan’s Bulls, teams that physically dominated opponents and subdued them mentally. in important games. .

A louder whistle complicated matters for the Timberwolves, who found themselves bothering the referees and diverting their attention from the sleeping giant who suddenly grabbed some smelling salts.

“I just think all of our energy was right,” Murray said. “That’s the main thing we’re going to get wrong or right. We’re going to turn it around. Sometimes they are going to score us. In every timeout, we went out together, locked in.”

In some ways, this result was predictable, but it planted enough doubt in the Timberwolves’ minds that the scales of confidence can be balanced despite Minnesota having a 2-1 lead and a home game on Sunday.

But at least for one night they regained their charm.

“We’re halfway there,” Malone said. “We have a long way to go.”

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