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Bring on Game 7: Timberwolves force decisive game vs. Nuggets with 45-point blowout

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As the Timberwolves were hurrying out of the visiting locker room in Denver following their Game 5 loss, Anthony Edwards wasn’t too upset and was in a talkative mood.

He chatted a bit with teammates and some media members even after the cameras turned off. But just before he left, he was chatting with a Nuggets locker room attendant. He told the attendant, “We’ll see you on Sunday for Game 7.”

Edwards and the Wolves made good on that promise with a resounding 115-70 victory in Thursday night’s Game 6 at Target Center, a game that was about as dramatic a turn from their previous three games as they could get.

Fans, league observers and maybe even the Wolves themselves wondered if they would ever find themselves again. Their offense was grounded, the Nuggets were outhustling them and Nikola Jokic was barely breaking a sweat against their once-intimidating defense.

But that defense came roaring back to force just the second Game 7 in franchise history on Sunday in Denver. It will be 20 years to the day the Wolves won their only other Game 7 in franchise history, at home against Sacramento in the second round in 2004.

Negativity had filled the Wolves after their past three losses. There was finger-pointing around the team, Edwards said. So coming into Game 6, the coaching staff decided to inject a little positivity by showing the Wolves an edit of all the good things they did in Games 1 and 2. That team showed up Thursday night.

“I think the last three games we were all down on ourselves,” Edwards said. “Just trying to point the finger, blame somebody. … Everybody started to believe after that little edit that they put together. I could tell the energy shifted after that little edit. That was big-time. I told them that was big-time putting the edit together.

Forward Jaden McDaniels said it was like a “hype video,” designed to re-ignite a competitive fire that had gone out in the Wolves.

“It had a good effect on us. Just showing that we’re able to compete with these guys,” McDaniels said.

Even after the Wolves opened Thursday’s game behind 9-2, there was calm in an early timeout huddle, and their defense began giving Denver fits. Jamal Murray couldn’t hit (4-for-18, 10 points) and the Wolves sensed an opening. They burst through it with 20 unanswered points in the first quarter with Edwards scoring 14 of his 27 then. Coach Chris Finch talked about his team having “two responses” in Game 6. One was the overall answer of coming into the game with a different mindset. The second was after that early deficit.

“Honestly, it was calm,” said point guard Mike Conley, back in the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game. “It wasn’t anybody just going crazy or anything. It was, ‘Man, 9-2 to start, we’ve got to get back to doing what we do, like lock in on the simple stuff. Don’t make this game harder than we need it to be,’ and we really responded from that.”

It could not have been more overwhelming. The Wolves held the Nuggets to 30% shooting and 19% from three-point range and led by 50 at one point in the fourth quarter. The only moment of concern was when Edwards hit the deck hard in the third quarter after Michael Porter Jr. fouled him at the rim. He remained face down on the floor for several moments and was slow to get back to the huddle during a timeout.

But Edwards remained in the game. He said he hurt his tailbone but would be fine for Sunday.

“I’m used to falling like that in football when I got on pads and stuff so I’m well protected,” Edwards said. “I didn’t have any pads on tonight so I felt that one for sure. It took some time for me to get used to the pain, but I’m good now.”

The rest of the night was cause for celebration at a raucous Target Center, as the Wolves finally gave fans a reason to cheer after losing both previous games at home this series.

The Wolves threw a lot of different looks at Jokic after he toasted them in Game 5 for 40 points. Karl-Anthony Towns was the primary one-on-one defender, but the Wolves mixed up their coverages with double teams throughout the night, in addition to just letting Towns guard Jokic straight up at times. That approach worked, as the Wolves limited Jokic to 22 points, nine rebounds and only two assists, a stat line they would gladly take again in Game 7 from the three-time NBA MVP.

“You don’t ever think you can stop players like that,” Towns said. “But you just know that if you do your best to contain him, you give your team a great chance. I just wanted to go out there and do the best I could.”

Edwards was a little more candid in giving Towns credit, while also saying he “cussed him out” prior to the game for getting in foul trouble.

“I cuss him out every chance I get,” Edwards said. ” … I think you guys see it. If KAT don’t foul we pretty much can win the game every time. Tonight he had three fouls, but he only had three, he didn’t have five. I told him today, ‘We thankful that you didn’t foul because if you foul we lose, because you the best matchup we’ve got for Jokic.’ “

BOXSCORE: Wolves 115, Denver 70

For the first time since Game 2, the Wolves offense was clicking. Edwards was hitting shots and setting up his teammates, specifically McDaniels, who scored 21 points after scoring no more than 11 in any game this series.

“Not wanting to go home was a big factor for me today,” McDaniels said. “I was going to do whatever I could to help my team.”

Conley also wanted to help any way he could after missing Game 5 because of a right soleus strain. Conley said he “couldn’t walk” two days earlier but wasn’t about to miss an elimination game after treatment helped him get better the previous 48 hours. He finished with 13 points and five assists.

“Just couldn’t move at all. But tonight it was a no-brainer,” Conley said. “I was going to try to find a way. We’re just better when we’re a complete team. Tonight, it was a complete effort. Happy we were able to show who we are, especially when we’re facing the adversity we’re facing.”

The Wolves were so dominant, Denver coach Michael Malone emptied his bench with 9 minutes, 52 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, and that allowed a delirious crowd to start the victory party much earlier than expected. A few moments later, with the crowd on its feet, Edwards flashed seven fingers to the crowds. He will get to see that locker room attendant again, and may offer a little “I told you so” when he does.

“I feel like as a competitor it’s like one of the best feelings 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 like super fun because nobody is on your side. I can just imagine how this game will be.”

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