The hidden side of politics

Furious first-half flurry powers Nuggets in Game 4

Reported by ESPN:

MINNEAPOLIS — Nikola Jokic burned a double team by finding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope open for a 3, notched a steal and then hit a streaking Michael Porter Jr. for a fastbreak dunk before Jamal Murray collected another steal and swished a 55-foot heave from the Target Center logo beyond halfcourt at the buzzer.

In the span of 20 dizzying seconds, the Denver Nuggets scored eight points to sprint into the half of Game 4 up 15. The flurry left the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Target Center stunned while propelling Denver to a 115-107 win to even this best-of-7 series at 2-2.

The Nuggets left Denver Thursday down 2-0, feeling as if many had counted them out against the upstart Wolves. They return to Colorado with their championship swagger back and home-court advantage back in their pocket.

Asked what his team found in Minneapolis during these two road games, Denver head coach Michael Malone quoted former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

“What I found is Rudy T is right man,” Malone said. “‘Never underestimate the heart of a champion.’ They were quick to write us off, but these guys, we won a championship a year ago. We went into Miami (in the NBA Finals), won two games in a row. This team has been tested time and time again and we found a way to solve whatever’s been thrown at us.

“This series is a long way from being over. We’re not celebrating, it’s 2-2. … But what I found about our group is that they do believe in themselves. And more importantly they believe in the man next to them. We have a group that is acting as you would hope a championship team would act.”

Unlike their Game 2 debacle when Minnesota’s defense suffocated them, 106-80, in Denver, the Nuggets didn’t just have an answer for everything Minnesota threw at them on Sunday — they took it to the Wolves.

Despite 44 points from Anthony Edwards, the Nuggets, led by Aaron Gordon‘s versatility, held Karl-Anthony Towns to 5-for-18 shooting. Gordon switched between guarding the 7-foot Towns and 6-4 Edwards.

And on offense, Gordon made his first 10 shots from the field before finishing 11-for-12 with 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He did it all, including bringing the ball up the floor and playmaker for the Nuggets.

“He was our best player tonight,” Jokic said. “He was doing everything.”

It was high praise coming from Jokic, who delivered a three-time MVP performance with 35 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to go with three steals. Murray added 19 points, eight assists and five rebounds to go with the shot that deflated the entire Target Center.

“That was sick,” Gordon said of the shot and eight-point flurry. “I mean, that was crazy, man. Murray three-quarter court 3… so sick.”

The stunning first-half finish by Denver left Minnesota players and fans feeling sick about what was happening. The Wolves had control of this series only to lose it in what was supposed to be a weekend of celebration before a delirious crowd.

They had just cut a 16-point lead down to seven with 48.3 seconds to go in the second quarter.

“Yeah, that hurt,” Towns said. “We made a good run to get ourselves back in the game and got some momentum, put some juice in the building and then they did what the defending champs do.

“It definitely sent us to halftime with a bad taste in our mouth. So we just got to be better next time.”

With Gordon hitting almost everything he put up and Jokic fending off every Wolves’ run with a big shot or pass, the Nuggets now can take control of the series at home on Tuesday.

Gordon knew the Nuggets would respond the way they did this weekend.

“I love when people count us out,” Gordon said. “A lot of these guys have been counted out before in their career. They’ve been the underdogs or the dark horse in their career before. They’ve operated from that space before, having their backs against the wall, of being counted out.

“So, I don’t think it was anything new to the individuals. It was new to our collective. But I liked the challenge and I’m glad we accepted it and put ourselves in a good position with home court.”

ESPN Staff Writer Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.