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The Denver Nuggets emphasized the importance of preventing Edwards’ supporting players from heating up, warning that if they do, it could lead to an early exit for the defending champions

It wasn’t just the slow start or Anthony Edwards’ impressive 43 points that concerned Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone after the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the reigning NBA champions 106-99 in the opening game of the second-round series on Saturday night.

Malone was more troubled by how the Nuggets allowed Edwards’ scoring to spark his teammates, leading to the Wolves’ fifth consecutive playoff win and putting the Nuggets at a series deficit, a situation they didn’t face last year when they won the championship.

“I wasn’t concerned about the start. We were down 18-4. Jamal Murray didn’t practice all week, and he couldn’t find his shot. I’m more worried about our defense in the second half,” Malone said, as his team aims to even the series in Game 2 on Monday night.

“At one point, they were shooting 90% after halftime.”

Denver Nuggets (Credits: SI.com)

The Timberwolves had a shooting percentage of 73.7% in the third quarter, making 14 out of 19 shots, which helped them overcome a halftime deficit of 44-40 and take a 73-68 lead into the fourth quarter. Minnesota continued to shoot well in the final quarter, making 13 of 19 shots.

They shot 71% in the second half, making 27 of 38 attempts.

“Naz Reid got into a rhythm. Karl-Anthony Towns found his groove. Mike Conley also found his rhythm. Anthony Edwards dominated the first half,” Malone commented. “But in the second half, I felt we lacked discipline and physicality, allowing them to get whatever they wanted.” “Seventy-one percent in the second half of a playoff game is not good enough.”

Especially when Jamal Murray, who played heroically in Denver’s first-round series against the Lakers, didn’t score any points in the first half – the first time he’s had a scoreless half in his 59 playoff games. He finished with 17 points, while Nikola Jokic scored 32 and Michael Porter Jr. scored 20.

“It felt like they made a lot of shots, especially in the second half,” Jokic said. “Some were open, some were not. It’s part of basketball. We need to do better, make them take tougher shots, or pass the ball more to make them work harder for baskets.”

Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves (Credits: Yardbarker)

Although Anthony Edwards scored 25 of his 43 points in the first half, he didn’t get much help from his teammates until they returned from halftime and started shooting exceptionally well.

“It will be a quick exit if we allow four guys to score like that,” Malone said. “So, ANT is going to score. We can do much better on everyone else.”

After halftime, the Wolves were on fire: Edwards was the only Minnesota player to miss more than one shot, going 7 for 12.

It’s always challenging to double-team Edwards and prevent him from scoring because the Wolves have a strong offense, with all five starters averaging double figures in points during their first-round sweep of Phoenix.

“I mean, any good team has multiple weapons,” Porter said. “One thing that makes us successful is when teams double Joker, we’ve got capable guys that can make shots and make them pay.

“Similar with them. If you double ANT, he may be swinging the ball to KAT or Mike Conley or Jaden McDaniels, all capable guys. So, it’s a balance and something we’ve got to look at on film.”

Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves (Credits: FOX News)

The Nuggets had a strong record of 10-1 at home when they won the franchise’s first NBA championship last summer and remained undefeated at Ball Arena against the Lakers in Round 1 this year.

“Yeah, we want to bounce back, especially in our home arena,” said Porter. “We’ve got to lock in from the jump. We know this team is very good, and we know it’s going to be a long series. And it’s going to be a good series. We’ve just got to get the next one.”

Timberwolves assistant coach Micah Nori, filling in for Chris Finch, who’s recovering from knee surgery, highlighted the shift in focus from the first round against the Suns to the series against Denver.

In the first round, they aimed to slow down the Suns’ fast starts, but against Denver, they concentrated on limiting Denver’s ability to close out games strongly.

“So, we went from starting games to closing games and just talking about taking care of the basketball, making sure we get good shots,” Nori said.