The Denver Nuggets defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-113 on Wednesday night, improving to a 2-0 lead in the series.

Jamal Murray led the way with 40 points, scoring in a variety of ways off the dribble. His stepback jumper was in rhythm for most of the night, and he hit clutch shot after clutch shot throughout the game to help the Nuggets survive a second half push from the Timberwolves.

The Nuggets had been mostly comfortable throughout the first two games of the series. Initially, it looked like Game 2 would also be a blowout. Denver had the lead up to 20+ points in the second quarter, but the Timberwolves chipped it down to 15 at halftime and then went on a big run to take their own lead in the third quarter.

Denver needed a lot from their stars tonight, and they certainly got it from Murray, who appears to be moving beyond the “Bubble Jamal” moniker as we speak.

Here are my primary takeaways from the Nuggets Game 2 matchup with the Timberwolves on Wednesday night:

Denver matches and exceeds Minnesota’s physicality

Entering Game 2, the Nuggets were prepared for an improved effort from the Timberwolves. They knew Minnesota would try to strike back with more hustle plays and physicality. The conversation prior to tonight for Denver centered around matching and exceeding Minnesota’s effort level.

Well, mission accomplished. Even if it was a much tougher grind than the previous game.

Minnesota did provide some hustle on the offensive glass, grabbing seven rebounds on Denver’s end in the first half. Then, Minnesota really started to roll, hitting outside shots, attacking the paint, and cutting Denver’s lead all the way down to size. The Nuggets were on their heels, but they ultimately recovered with some elite shotmaking and great hustle plays.

The Nuggets have been in this position before, and even though they gave up the lead, they were never shaken.

“Experience,” Murray answered of how Denver survived Minnesota’s run. “I think we know what we had to do. They were playing hard. They were fighting. I just think we countered and played hard. We expended the same amount of energy trying to win the game.

“It was fun. It was a good battle.”

The Nuggets were outscored 40-23 in the third quarter, but they responded by winning the fourth quarter with a 35-24 margin.

“Give them credit man,” Malone quipped. “We knew at some point we would see the aggressive, attacking Timberwolves. In that third quarter, we saw that. They played great, and we didn’t defend in that third quarter, but I was proud of how we responded in that fourth quarter.”

Minnesota will likely be even more angry and aggressive in game 3.

Jamal Murray was aggressive early and often

The Timberwolves made a starting lineup change to add another shooter to their lineup in Taurean Prince. That didn’t actually help their shooting, but it did help Jamal Murray. Denver’s point guard struggled playmaking against Nickeil Alexander-Walker in Game 1, but without him in the starting group in Game 2, Murray was aggressive early with 14 points on eight shot attempts.

That first quarter performance was a liftoff for the rest of the night. Murray found ways to attack the rim, getting himself comfortable to hit stepback and turnaround jumpers with ease. The Nuggets needed every single bit of Murray’s 40 points, and he delivered. 40 points on 13-of-22 from the field, 6-of-10 from three, and 8-of-9 from the line is absolutely absurd.

“He left a piece of him out there tonight,” Malone said of Murray’s game. “Passionate, heartfelt performance.”

The Nuggets know they need this version of Murray to make their way through the playoffs. Jokić is one man, and he needs help throughout the playoffs in order to make it to the promised land. Murray (and others) can do that.

Playoff Murray appears to be back in full swing.

“It means a lot man,” Murray shared. “A lot of fun being in the zone, feeling the energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. Feeling the adrenaline, handling the adrenaline.”

We got ourselves a Porter quarter

Michael Porter Jr. wasn’t a factor in the first three quarters of this game. He struggled with foul trouble, and he attempted just one shot in the first 36 minutes of this game. The T’Wolves went on a run in that third quarter, and with Jokić and Murray both playing the entire third, they weren’t going to be on the floor to begin the fourth.

Michael Porter Jr. had to deliver in the fourth quarter, and he absolutely did. 13 of his 16 points came in the quarter, and he started off strongly with another four-point play.

“Michael Porter Jr. was key,” stated Malone postgame. “Let’s give Michael a lot of love.”

Porter scored his 16 points on 5-of-7 from the field, 2-of-3 from three, and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. It was an incredibly efficient performance, and to get that hot and be that productive after barely touching the ball the entire game is extremely impressive.

“I thought on defense, he played great,” Murray said of Porter’s night. “He stayed locked in. He stayed with it. He stayed with the game. Even when he wasn’t getting the ball…it turned out to be a big game for him. He made some huge plays down the stretch.”

Just like Murray, the Nuggets know they need this version of Porter to be the best team they can be. Porter’s ability to put up a crooked number in the fourth saved the game for the Nuggets.

The Nuggets now improve to 2-0 in the series, defending home court against the Timberwolves despite a big push from Minnesota in the second half. They made Denver work for it, forcing the Nuggets starters to play a ton of minutes and needing a massive performance from Murray. Denver got the job done, but it may be more difficult for them to get a game in Minnesota than people realize.

Malone wrapped up his presser with one message: the Nuggets have to be greedy in Game 3.

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