'They beat our ass': Wolves' emphatic win over the champs sets up a monster Game 7

MINNEAPOLIS — A celebratory atmosphere was thwarted for a few fleeting moments, a hushed crowd at Target Center waited as Anthony Edwards lay flat on his stomach following a fall from a drive to the basket.

The chants of “MVP” rang out when the former football player got up slowly, grimaced a bit, and soon after took two free throws.

Then he clapped his hands, got down in a defensive stance and continued tracking Jamal Murray like a defensive back giving a wide receiver a bad day.

“I fell pretty hard. I’m used to falling like that in football when I got on pads so I’m well-protected,” Edwards said after the game with that familiar gleam in his eye. “I didn’t have any pads on tonight so I felt that for sure. It took time to get used to the pain, but I’m good now.”

Edwards doesn’t know it’s gonna hurt in the morning, and the Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t know they were supposed to go down once the champion Denver Nuggets put a whupping on them two days earlier.

That bliss could very well be cloaked in resilience, and what looks like competitive ignorance could very well be an acknowledgment that an opportunity needn’t be wasted.

The Timberwolves did more than extend their season, and did more than give the NBA its first Game 7 of the second round with a resounding 115-70 Game 6 win Thursday.

What this series lacks in classic finishes, it makes up for in intrigue. This series has turned on its ear three times already, the previous time being the champion Nuggets asserting themselves at home for the first time in this showdown behind an enormous Nikola Jokić performance.

Now the NBA’s marquee series is headed for what could be a classic Game 7.

“I feel like as a competitor, it’s like one of the best things in the world,” Edwards said. “I’ve never played a Game 7 on the road. But all my playoff experiences on the road has been super fun because nobody's on your side. So I can just imagine how this game will be.”

If the Nuggets believed they delivered the knockout blow in Denver, they were sadly mistaken. Perhaps they relaxed a bit, especially after going up 9-2 and looking like it would be a repeat of Games 3 and 4, where the crowd was taken out of the game early as the Timberwolves had to play perfect just to keep it close.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - MAY 16: Anthony Edwards #5 of the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrates against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter in Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round Playoffs at Target Center on May 16, 2024 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves are going back to Denver for a Game 7. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

That wasn’t the case here, as the Timberwolves led by 24 in the first half and by as many as 50 in the fourth.

“They beat our ass,” Jokić said, succinctly.

This bunch has a short memory, it’s what makes these champion-challenger series so interesting. The Nuggets know the Timberwolves are coming, that they’re nipping at their heels. In fact, the Nuggets may know better than the Timberwolves how good these guys are — and now it seems like the Timberwolves are discovering it themselves.

“Guys just believe in themselves. The last three games, we’ve been down on ourselves, trying to point the finger and blame somebody,” Edwards said.

Then in film session this morning, the coaches put together clips of what the Timberwolves had done in the first two games, which feels like two weeks ago, when they stole two games at Ball Arena.

“Everybody started to believe, with the edit they put together,” Edwards said. “I can tell the energy shifted. That was big time, I told them that was big time.”

“We talked a lot about getting our edge back, our swagger, playing more free and easy,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “We hadn’t had our best effort on both sides of the ball. We left a lot of meat on the bone offensively the other day. You know it’s gonna be a long series coming in, it’s proven to be the case.”

That energy made its way from the practice facility to the game, and seems like it could carry to Game 7 — where anything goes, in a series that has seemed to have a little bit of everything.

That 9-2 lead soon turned into a Minnesota 22-2 run, where the Wolves played up to their nickname on one end — frenetic and handsy on defense, Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker resuming their roles as disrupters.

And on offense, it was patience and composure, along with timely shooting from the two wings who haven’t shot well, led by McDaniels who scored 21 and hit three triples, same as Alexander-Walker.

“We got Mike Conley back, that was it,” Edwards said.

Conley missed Game 5 with a right Achilles injury, but looked very much like himself after the rest. He hit three triples himself and scored 13 points with five assists.

“I know you have two of the best teams fight and clawing every night,” Conley said. “We don’t know who’s gonna come out. One-point win, 30-point win, five-point win, both teams are gonna adjust. This is the most important part of our season, to be in a Game 7.”

What’s more, he freed up Edwards to get back to attacking, after being swarmed by as many as three defenders two days ago.

Edwards finished with a mere 27 points, but they were so impactful, especially early when the Timberwolves gathered themselves. He got in the open floor for dunks, hit pull-up threes and looked nothing like the tentative player he was in Game 5.

“Because last game I was trying to get people involved and be aggressive, but with Mike playing I don't have to worry about getting people involved,” Edwards said. “That's his job.”

Edwards may not be the best player in this budding rivalry yet, not with Jokić in the middle of his prime and Edwards at 22 years old, but he plays an important part — because he’s so directly tied to the two X-factors here: Karl-Anthony Towns on his side, and Murray across the way.

Whether injury related or Edwards' dogged defense doing the job, Murray started off 1-for-10, and by the time he got going the game was well out of reach — well, by halftime it was clear the series was heading back to Denver.

But Murray didn’t get comfortable when the game was there for the taking (he finished 4-for-18 with 10 points), and Jokić couldn’t deliver another signature performance on call, with 22 and 9 in 36 minutes. That’s where Towns comes in, because Edwards continues to pour positive reinforcement and accountability at the same time. Towns is the main defender on Jokić, to keep Rudy Gobert at the rim and in help position for the other spots, but Gobert can’t be that if Towns stays in foul trouble.

“He’s been doing an outstanding job all series. The main thing, his ass stayed out of foul trouble like I told him in that Phoenix series,” Edwards said. “I cussed him out every chance I get, stop f***ing fouling. You guys see it. If KAT don’t foul, we win the game every time. You do the best job on Jokić.”

Towns can be pretty sloppy attacking mismatches but he was patient, assessing the defense and swinging it to open shooters. They didn’t hit at a high clip, but making the right play gives you a chance — especially when those wings drive at the Nuggets’ shoddy rim protection.

Towns scored only 10 points in 29 minutes but added 13 rebounds and five assists, and committed just three fouls.

Edwards was rumored to tell a Denver ballboy on his way out of the locker room that he’d be back for Game 7. In pure Edwards fashion, he backed it up.

“Hell yeah," Edwards said. "I told him, 'I’ll see y’all (expletives) for Game 7.'”

Game on.