DENVER — It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but that doesn’t matter in the playoffs. All that matters is the top-seeded Denver Nuggets got the win on Tuesday night to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
After a lackluster first-quarter performance that saw them trail by as many as 15 points — their largest deficit of the series — the Nuggets slowly chipped away and finally were able to pull away in the second half for a 112-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The win gave the Nuggets a 4-1 series victory. They move on to face the Phoenix Suns, who eliminated the LA Clippers in Game 5 later Tuesday.
“To win a series, I don’t care about 8-seed or 1-seed or all that other B.S.,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “To win a series in the playoffs is hard. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Nikola Jokic finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists for his second triple-double of the series and his eighth career playoff triple-double. Only Wilt Chamberlain (nine) has more by a center in NBA playoff history. Denver improved to 29-2 this season, including playoffs, when Jokic has a triple-double.
Jokic became the fifth player in NBA history to have 25-15-10 in a clinching opportunity, joining LeBron James (2020), James Worthy (1988), Chamberlain (1967) and Oscar Robertson (1963), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
It wasn’t his best night shooting, however, as he was 8-of-29 from the field. He was 3-of-8 on 3-pointers and 9-of-10 from the line.
Jokic came through when the Nuggets needed him the most, though. With the score tied at 104 with under a minute to go, Jokic missed a jumper in the lane, got his rebound, missed a layup, got his rebound and then put in a hook shot to give the Nuggets a two-point advantage.
On the other end, Anthony Edwards missed a jumper and Jokic snagged the rebound and pushed it up court. After running an action with Murray at the top of the key, Murray found a rolling Jokic at the basket and he scored through contact with 28.1 seconds to go. The ensuing free throw put the Nuggets up by five.
The Timberwolves answered with a 3-pointer by Mike Conley, and after two free throws by Bruce Brown, Minnesota again scored with an Edwards layup with 3.4 seconds to go. Jokic put Denver up by three after making one of two free throws with 2.5 left.
Minnesota had a chance to tie, but Edwards’ deep 3-point attempt clanged off the back of the rim.
The Nuggets failed to pull off the sweep despite making a furious late comeback and forcing overtime in Minnesota on Sunday. The Timberwolves responded by throwing the first punch on Tuesday in Denver, jumping out to a 27-12 lead.
Denver finished the first quarter on a 10-2 run, and the score remained close throughout. Neither team held more than a two-possession lead from the 7:15 mark in the second quarter through the final buzzer.
Jamal Murray finished with 35 points, marking his seventh 35-point playoff game. In Nuggets playoff history, only Jokic (nine) has more.
As the top seed, Denver has home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. It owns a 37-7 mark at home this season, including the regular season and playoffs, which is the best winning percentage in the league through Tuesday’s games.