DENVER — As Jamal Murray headed to the bench after recording his fifth 40-point postseason game, he soaked in the admiration of the sold-out Ball Arena crowd.
His other four 40-point playoff outings came in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, during the 2020 playoffs. This one was different. With 11 seconds remaining, Nuggets coach Michael Malone gave Murray a curtain call as home fans cheered away the final moments of Wednesday’s 122-113 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves that gave Denver a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference first-round series.
“It’s nice having a crowd,” Murray said. “They get me going. It’s great energy.”
Murray finished with 40 points on 13-of-22 shooting as he went 6-of-10 from 3-point range. Now he has more 40-point playoff games (five) than 40-point regular-season games (four).
“Our fans are great. Just to reward him and acknowledge the effort he gave forth,” Malone said of Murray. “He left a piece of him out there tonight. For 39 minutes, he was just so impactful across the board. A passionate, heartfelt performance. The fact he missed the last two postseasons and for him to play at that level.”
Murray’s production was sorely needed as what was shaping up to be a runaway Nuggets victory turned into a tight game. Denver led by as many as 21 in the first half, but that advantage was erased by the end of the third quarter.
Minnesota took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter after winning the third quarter 40-23, but Denver was able to storm back for the Game 2 victory.
“We’ve played eight quarters so far. Seven have been great,” Malone said. “We had one bad quarter. But we responded and found a way.”
Malone said that after the Nuggets held Minnesota to 80 points in Game 1, he knew the Timberwolves were going to come out more aggressive in the second game of the series. And while the Nuggets held a double-digit halftime advantage, Wednesday’s third quarter changed things. Minnesota shot 17-of-21 (81%) from the field in that quarter.
Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. helped shift the momentum again early in the fourth.
With Murray and Nikola Jokic on the bench, Malone called a play for Porter to start the period.
Porter had played just 16 minutes, 40 seconds to that point because of foul trouble, but 14 seconds into the final period, he came off a screen and hit a 3-pointer while being fouled. He nailed the free throw to complete the four-point play and put the Nuggets back ahead.
“It was hard to get back into a groove in the fourth quarter, but I just told myself it doesn’t matter what happens,” Porter said. “I got to show up in the fourth. And really, the whole playoffs. Stats don’t matter. Shooting percentages don’t matter. You just got to have next-play mentality and just do what you can for your team. So that’s what I was thinking.”
On the ensuing Nuggets possession, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed a 3-pointer but Karl-Anthony Towns couldn’t corral the rebound for Minnesota. On the inbounds play, Porter caught it in the corner, dribbled baseline, jumped through two Timberwolves defenders and finished with a reverse layup.
The sequence helped start the Nuggets on the right foot in the fourth quarter, and they built up their momentum from there.
“I felt in that fourth quarter with Jamal and Nikola on the bench, Michael’s gotta be our guy,” Malone said. “I ran some actions for him, getting him the ball. And what you love about Michael Porter is he’s not settling. If he’s got the shot, he’s shooting it. No hesitation. But he’s also not afraid to put the ball on the floor.”
Denver outscored the Wolves 35-24 in the fourth quarter to secure the win and give the team its first 2-0 series lead under Malone in the playoffs.
Anthony Edwards finished with 41 points for Minnesota, including 27 in the second half, and hit six 3-pointers. At 21 years, 257 days old, Edwards became the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to have a 40-point playoff game. The only others to do it at a younger age were Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Luka Doncic.
It also was just the second game in NBA history in which opposing players had at least 40 points and six 3-pointers in the same game. The other instance? Murray and Donovan Mitchell in Game 6 in the first round in 2020.
Minnesota coach Chris Finch said his team did a better job of creating shots in the third quarter that allowed the Wolves to get back in the contest.
“We were able to get stops and runs too, so that helps,” Finch told reporters postgame. “But I definitely much preferred the rhythm and the purpose of our offense tonight than I did the other night. I thought it was a mix of force for us.”
Towns said while the team stepped it up after a lackluster first half, there’s more work to be done.
“It was just the little things that hurt us,” Towns said, “so we just have to go back to Minnesota and take Game 3 and Game 4.”