Home Sports With Timberwolves’ takedown of the champs, there’s a new favorite in the NBA (for now)

With Timberwolves’ takedown of the champs, there’s a new favorite in the NBA (for now)

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Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards gestures as time runs out in the second half of Game 7 of an NBA second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Denver . (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER – There is no more waiting your turn in today’s NBA, nor the necessary suffering a team must endure before achieving elite status.

Windows opens and closes faster than anyone could expect, so if there’s an opportunity to take advantage of it, you better take it.

And the Minnesota Timberwolves shook off nerves, first-half lethargy and even 20 years of generational ineptitude to not only establish themselves as a true championship contender, but also defeat the defending champion Denver Nuggets, on their own court in a Game 7, and coming from a 20-point deficit to do it.

The Nuggets know that feeling, they were the championship bullies last spring, shaking off curses, shaking off injuries to eventually snatch the title from the traditional powers of the NBA.

That final feeling is the one the Timberwolves hope to have, which is also one of exhaustion, of frustration, the one that says that as a champion you must play another 82 games before beginning the two-month journey in hopes of regaining the title. other qualification.

The Wolves want him now, without all the devastating angst that comes with a run to a championship.

“It’s the playoffs, we lost last year,” Karl-Anthony Towns said, referring to last year’s first-round loss to these Nuggets.

“We lost the last two years,” Anthony Edwards said, a nod to their first-round loss to Memphis in 2022.

Towns continued: “How much more do we have to lose? We’ve been losing for 20 years!

Maybe not much more.

It was the acquisition of Rudy Gobert that started this change, an ambitious bet. And Gobert’s 9-1-1 jumper with the shot clock running down was the karmic moment that let everyone know it was Minny’s night.

For the sixth consecutive year, the NBA will not have a repeat champion, and for the first time in modern NBA history, the NBA Final Four will not have a current or past MVP.

The Timberwolves came to Ball Arena and won for the third time in this series, advancing to the Western Conference finals with a 98-90 victory on Sunday night, the unlikeliest ending to the unlikeliest series.

The Timberwolves will have home-field advantage against the Dallas Mavericks when the series begins Wednesday night.

Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves defeated the defending champions. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

It was all there, the flushed expression on Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s face, the exhaustion dripping from his voice as if he’d played 48 minutes and suddenly couldn’t make a shot.

It was all there, the jubilation in the room behind him as he spoke at his press conference: it was almost cruel. Because it was the Timberwolves locker room, giving all the screams and shouts at the moment surely deserved.

After initially being scathing, Malone composed himself. These Timberwolves were built to beat these same Nuggets, and while history says a team should suffer a little more before taking control, taking control in today’s league doesn’t last long.

“I’m not an excuse maker, the better team won,” Malone said. “We played a lot of basketball until June of last year. We had to play against our top players until Game 82 to secure second place. The run last season and coming back, mentally, emotionally and physically, our guys were exhausted. They gave me everything I could ask for.”

The champions used to make fun of the rivals. From Magic to Isiah, through Michael, through Shaq and Kobe, through Steph and KD, it became customary to repeat. If you won one, set your watch to be back there, at the same time, next year in June.

Now June belongs to no one. You can borrow June, but when the contract ends, you are abruptly evicted, even if you have the best player in the world in Nikola Jokić, even if you have the best non-All Star in Jamal Murray.

“A lot has been put on their shoulders,” Malone said. “We hope that Nikola and Jamal continue to pull rabbits out of hats and that someone else has to help them. We just had a hard time making shots. “They are a very good defense.”

The duo carried the Nuggets as far as they could, especially Murray with his injured calf. When Murray was leaving, all was right with the world in the first half. He and Jokić combined for 69 of the Nuggets’ points, but couldn’t find help anywhere else. Jokić scored 34 with 19 rebounds, but it didn’t seem like a typical Jokić game.

And now it must be cooked.

But despite the Timberwolves’ enthusiastic comeback, which held the champions to 37 second-half points as they were walked, looked straight in the eye and ran past, it wasn’t a matter of either team drowning or coming up short. .

It was about the two best teams in basketball locked in a fight for two weeks and then delivering a classic Game 7 that brought all the emotions, fears and doubts they’re supposed to have.

The halftime message from the Timberwolves locker room was simple.

“Calm down,” Mike Conley said.

The 15-point halftime deficit was going to be the largest overturned in the history of Game 7. And the history of this series said there were no comebacks to be had, with all the explosions. But this is a different NBA, a different Minnesota team, and somewhere along the way they realized what seemed obvious a week ago.

They are the best team, if only they could handle the moments.

Then the moments came, in waves.

Edwards, in the middle of a 6-for-24 night, let loose in the open court, guarding Murray, hitting and cajoling, like an annoying little brother, until he took the ball away from him and got layups and dunks.

Then Karl-Anthony Towns, who defended Jokić admirably and played well enough on offense to keep the Wolves within striking distance (doing as much as he could and not doing too much at the same time) using his size to go to the basket.

Malone knew he couldn’t let Edwards explode with a 40, so he charged in and challenged Towns to beat them.

And then you look up and suddenly the game goes from 58-38 at the 10:50 mark to nine minutes later when the Timberwolves went on a 21-3 run that had everyone’s palms sweating. their hands and tighten their cheeks.

You have to play the percentages, both on the floor and on the balance sheet.

That’s what makes sustainability in today’s NBA so difficult to achieve, because you can’t really contribute to the core of the championship and at the same time reward the players who brought you the ring. The Nuggets played just six meaningful minutes, with Christian Braun playing 19 off the bench.

Typically, teams add veterans in the backfield, willing to take on smaller roles in hopes of claiming a title, but in this brave new world of luxury tax thresholds, the mechanics of finding a seventh or eighth man , or keep the ones you already have, seem impossible.

Malone promises the Nuggets will return, and they are expected to. Tim Duncan’s Spurs never repeated themselves, suffering some devastating losses along their journey, and even some embarrassing ones, but they came back for more, and it’s worth noting that Malone considers that run of five championships from 1999 to 2014 a dynasty.

“You go from training camp to the end and then you come to an abrupt stop,” Malone said. “And that hurts. So he uses that feeling of motivation to come back as a better player. We won it last year. The teams in the West regrouped and reorganized. How are we going to beat the champions? And the teams improved.”

Bruce Brown, a key member of last year’s run, is elsewhere, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will receive a raise after this season if he opts out.

Those two are crushers, and the Wolves embraced that identity, especially Jaden McDaniels (23 points) and Edwards, who marveled at his 2-for-10 performance from 3 in a way only he can. But when the Wolves were responding strongly, one of those three-pointers closed the third quarter and put the game within one point.

The latter, after a Conley steal in the open court, essentially turned out the lights at Ball Arena by giving his team a 10-point lead with 3:07 left.

But there was Edwards, congratulating Towns next to him on the podium.

“He made all the right plays tonight. He only took 14 shots, always super efficient,” Edwards said. “He carried us tonight, every time we needed a bucket, he was there for us. He made the right plays time and time again.”

Edwards is the undisputed leader, even if he’s not the seasoned veteran; In fact, one of the reasons Gobert was brought to Minnesota was because Towns was more of an offensive player than the other side.

And despite Edwards’ place in the pecking order, Towns has taken the loss more than anyone in a Timberwolves jersey.

“I definitely had a moment,” Towns said. “I have waited nine years. I’ve talked about wanting to win and do something special for this organization and all the failures and things that didn’t materialize, and the disappointment that comes with it. Even if it’s just for this moment, celebrate the victories. “I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen it all.”

“(Expletive) those nine years,” Edwards said.

That could very well have been said in the locker room at halftime and after the game.

The Wolves have shed the old label and now wear a new one: as a favorite, but not for long.

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