With the Timberwolves dethroning champions, the NBA has a new option (for now).

DENVER – In today’s NBA you don’t have to wait your turn anymore, there’s no more suffering a team has to endure before reaching elite status.

Windows open and close faster than anyone expects, so if there’s an opportunity to take it, you better take it.

The Minnesota Timberwolves shook off nerves, lethargic first half and even 20-year-old generational ineptitude to not only establish themselves as a top championship contender, but to knock off the defending champion Denver Nuggets – on their home floor in Game 7, and more to come. Come back from a 20-point deficit to do so.

The Nuggets know that feeling, they were championship chasers last spring, shook off curses, shook off injuries and eventually wrested the title from traditional NBA powers.

That final feeling is what the Timberwolves are hoping for — it’s the exhaustion, the frustration, the champ that says you have to play 82 games again before starting a two-month road trip. Another one title.

Wolves love it now, without the devastating heartbreak that comes with a Championship road trip.

“It’s the playoffs, and we lost last year,” Karl-Anthony Towns said, referring to last year’s first-round loss to the Nuckets.

“We lost the last two years,” Anthony Edwards said, nodding to a first-round loss to Memphis in 2022.

Cities continued, “How much more do we have to lose? We’ve been losing for 20 years!

Maybe, not much.

It was the acquisition of Rudy Gobert that started the turnaround, an ambitious gamble at that. Gobert’s 9-1-1 jumper shot the clock as it ran down, the karmic moment that let everyone know it was Minnie’s night.

For the sixth year in a row, the NBA will not have a repeat champion, and for the first time in modern NBA history, the NBA’s Final Four will not feature a current or past Most Valuable Player.

The Timberwolves came into Ball Arena and won the series for the third straight time, advancing to the Western Conference finals with a 98-90 victory Sunday night, one of the series’ most improbable finals.

The Timberwolves will have home-court advantage against the Dallas Mavericks in Wednesday night’s series.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards gestures during the second half of Game 7 of their NBA second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Denver.  (AP Photo/David Zalupowski)

Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves beat the defending champions. (AP Photo/David Zalupowski)

Nuggets coach Michael Malone had a flushed look on his face, exhaustion creeping into his voice as if he suddenly couldn’t make a shot after playing 48 minutes.

See also  NFL fans wonder if Sam Hubbard missed the penalty on the historic Sam Hubbard touchdown

The cheers in the room behind him when he spoke at his press conference – it was brutal. Because it was the Timberwolves’ locker room, given all the hoodin’, the moment was definitely deserved.

After initially being acerbic, Malone composed himself. The Timberwolves were built to overcome these nuggets, and while history suggests a team has to struggle a little more before taking over, taking over doesn’t last long in today’s league.

“I’m not an excuse maker, the best team wins,” Malone said. “Last year in June we played a lot of basketball. We had to play our key players through the 82nd game to secure the second seed. The run last season, coming back, mentally, emotionally, physically, our guys were gutted. They gave me everything I could ask for.

Champions used to taunt challengers. From Magic to Isiah to Michael to Shaq and Kobe to Steph and KD, repetition has become the norm. If you win one, set your watch to be there again at the same time next year in June.

Now, no one owns June. You can get a loan in June, but once the lease is up, you’re suddenly out — even if you have the best player in the world in Nikola Jokic and the best non-All-Star in Jamaal Murray.

“So much is put on their shoulders,” Malone said. “We expect Nikola and Jamal to continue to pull rabbits out of the hat and someone else has to help them. We struggled to get shots. They’re a good defense.”

Both took as many nuggets as they could, especially Murray on his injured calf. When Murray was dismissed, the world was right in the first half. He and Jockey combined for 69 Nuggets points, but they couldn’t get help anywhere else. Jokic scored 34 with 19 rebounds, but it didn’t feel like a signature Jokic game.

Now, he has to stew.

But despite the Timberwolves’ spirited comeback, holding the champs to 37 second-half points as they walked down, squared them and ran past them, it wasn’t about either team choking or coming up short.

See also  Ryan Gosling Says What Everyone Thinks About 'Barbie' Oscar Nomination

It’s about two of the best teams in basketball engaging in a slugfest for two weeks, then delivering a classic seventh game.

The halftime message from the Timberwolves’ locker room was simple.

“Keep calm,” Mike Conley said.

A 15-point halftime deficit would be the largest in Game 7 history. The history of the series dictates that comebacks shouldn’t be with all the hype. But this is a different NBA, a different Minnesota team — and somewhere along the way, they realized what seemed obvious a week ago.

They are the best team if they can handle the moments.

And then the moments came in waves.

Edwards, 6-for-24 in the middle of the night, got loose in the open floor, guarding Murray, swiping and cajoling like an annoying little brother until he dribbled the ball and got layups and dunks.

Then Karl-Anthony Towns played well enough to defend Jokic admirably and keep the Wolves within striking distance — both doing what he could while not doing too much — using his size to get to the basket.

Malone knew he couldn’t let Edwards explode in the 40-ball, so he dared Downs to beat him.

And, next thing you look up, everyone’s palms are sweaty and cheeks are clenched when the Timberwolves complete a 21-3 run nine minutes later to make the game 58-38 at the 10:50 mark.

You have to play percentages both on the ground and in the balance.

Consistency is very difficult to achieve in today’s NBA because you can’t truly add to a championship core while rewarding the players who brought you your ring. The Nuggets played only six men’s heavy minutes, with Christian Brown playing 19 off the bench.

Usually teams add vets on the back end, willing to take on minor roles in hopes of claiming a title, but in this brave new world of the luxury tax limit, the means to find a seventh or eighth man — or keep those you have — feel. Impossible.

Malone vows the Nuggets will be back, and they should be expected to. Tim Duncan’s Spurs never repeated, suffered some devastating losses on their journey, and even some embarrassing ones, only to come back for more – and Malone considers the five championships from 1999 to 2014 a dynasty.

See also  Universal Studio Group re-established term contracts not extended - deadline

“You go all the way from training camp, and then all of a sudden it stops,” Malone said. “It hurts. So use that feeling of motivation to come back a better player. We won last year. The teams in the West, they regrouped, they regrouped. How are we going to beat the champions? And the teams are great.

Bruce Brown, a key member of last year’s run, is elsewhere, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be promoted if he leaves following the season.

Those two are grinders, and the Wolves got that mark — especially Jaden McDaniels (23 points) and Edwards, who was 2-for-10 from 3 as only he can be. But when the Wolves roared back, one of those triples ended the third quarter and made it a one-point game.

Finally, after an open-court steal from Conley, Ball essentially turned the lights out by giving his team a 10-point lead with 3:07 left in the arena.

But Edwards praised the cities next to him on stage.

“He made all the right plays tonight. He only took 14 shots, very efficient as always,” Edwards said. “He carried us tonight, every time we needed a bucket he was there for us. He made the right plays over and over again.

Edwards is the unquestioned leader, even if he’s not an experienced vet — in fact, one of the reasons Gobert was brought to Minnesota was because Downs was more of an offensive player than a tight end.

Despite Edwards’ place in the lineup, Downs has worn the lost one more than anyone who’s ever worn a Timberwolves jersey.

“I definitely had a moment,” Downs said. “I waited for nine years. I talked about wanting to win and doing something great for this organization, about failures and things not working out and the disappointment that comes with that. Even in this moment, celebrate the victories. I’ve seen everything, I’ve seen everything.

“(Explain) them nine years,” Edwards said.

That could have been said in the locker room at halftime and after the game.

Wolves shed the old label and now wear a new one: Favorite, but not for long.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *