MERILATT MONDAY

Two wins in Minnesota answer all of the doubts about the Nuggets

May 13, 2024, 4:00 AM | Updated: 1:27 pm

I was a doubter.

Ask for anyone who thought the Nuggets were toast after falling behind 0-2 to the Timberwolves and I’m raising my hand. After they got embarrassed on their home court, losing by 26 points in Game 2, there wasn’t a part of me that thought they’d have a chance to win the series.

Denver unraveled that night. They got blown out on the scoreboard, but they were even worse in other ways.

Michael Malone was charging officials. Jamal Murray was tossing towels and heat packs onto the court. Aaron Gordon was having to be restrained. Nikola Jokic was disappearing.

It was an outright disaster. The defending champs looked like a fluke; they appeared to be a flash in the pan.

Would they get swept? Probably. The series against the Wolves would likely end on Mothers Day.

Maybe a gentlemen’s sweep? Fine. Waste your money on a ticket to Game 5, only to see Denver get bounced out of the playoffs at Ball Arena.

I was a doubter. Big time.

There was no chance the Nuggets were coming back. Denver was on the canvas, searching for their mouthpiece, like Mike Tyson in Tokyo after being knocked down by Buster Douglas.

But then, the Nuggets answered the bell.

They rolled into Minnesota, on the ropes in the second round, and found a way to win a game. Denver dominated in Game 3, winning 117-90 to get back into the series.

It was impressive. To put it mildly.

After the game, Malone was a proud head coach. And deservedly so.

“Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” Malone said. “They were quick to write us off. But these guys won a championship a year ago. This team has been tested time and time again, and we’ve found a way to solve whatever has been thrown at us.”

That’s true. But they haven’t had to decode anything like the problem they faced in this series.

Yeah, they were tied 1-1 against the Heat in the NBA Finals a year ago, somewhat reeling after losing Game 2 at home. But Miami was a No. 8 seed. They were Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and a bunch of guys.

This was different. The Timberwolves were undefeated in the postseason. They had swept the Suns and taken the first two games from the Nuggets. Minnesota was a defensive juggernaut, a team that couldn’t be decoded.

It seemed like an impossible mission. But then, Game 3 happened

The realists didn’t really want to tune in. On a Friday night, it was something to peek in on, looking to see if Denver had any heart, waiting to see if they made it interesting.

And they did. It dominant fashion.

That raised eyebrows. That was cause for hope. That provided a reason to tune into Game 4. But there was still plenty of doubt to go around.

Could Denver do it two games in a row? On the road? Would the Timberwolves bounce back and maintain control of the series?

The answer to those questions was emphatic. The Nuggets were fantastic in Game 4, as well. They completely controlled the game, winning 115-107, and regained control of the series.

Now, it all comes down to Game 5. It’s pivotal. The series is on the line. Likely the season is on the line.

“This series is a long way from being over,” Malone said “We aren’t celebrating. It’s 2-2. Now, you have to find a way to win Game 5.”

When a series is tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to advance nearly 83 percent of the time. Given that the Nuggets are at home, it’s even more imperative that they get the W. Going to Minnesota in need of a third road victory in the series would be a daunting task.

Denver has to win on Tuesday night. Their season hangs in the balance. The defense of their title is on the line.

Are they up to the task? What a difference a week makes when it comes to answering that question.

“What I found about our group is that they do believe in themselves,” Malone added. “And more importantly, in the man next to them.”

That was evident in Games 3 and 4. The Nuggets showed the heart of a champion in both games, battling their way back into the series.

Now, they have to finish the job. Denver has to close the deal and knock out the Wolves.

If they can do it, the Nuggets will answer all of the questions that get thrown their way. There would be no more dismissing their title run, as this year won’t be a dash through a No. 8, 4, 7 and 8 seed. There’d be no discounting their ability to recover from two 3-1 deficits in the bubble, as this rally would involve overcoming plenty of adversity.

In the last week, there were plenty of questions about the Nuggets. Their championship looked like it might be fool’s gold.

But now, things have changed. Back-to-back wins in Minnesota have turned the pyrite into something much more valuable.

Can they complete the job? Their head coach thinks so.

“We have a group that is acting as you would hope a championship team would act,” Malone said after Game 4.

It looks like it. Two more wins will answer all of the doubters.

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