Nuggets vs. Timberwolves score: Dominant Nikola Jokic, near-perfect Aaron Gordon

After losing the first two games of the series at home, the defending champion Denver Nuggets have evened their Western Conference semifinal matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves with Sunday’s 115-107 Game 4 victory. The Nuggets fought off a hot start from Minnesota to take a lead toward the end of the first quarter that they would never relinquish. A pivotal Game 5 is set for Tuesday back in Denver.

Three-time MVP Nikola Jokic led the way for the Nuggets, scoring 16 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter to go with seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Denver forward Aaron Gordon turned in one of the best games of his career, putting up 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists on near-perfect 11-for-12 shooting. The Nuggets’ biggest dagger may have come just before halftime, when they put up an 8-0 run in 20 seconds, capped by Jamal Murray’s steal and halfcourt buzzer-beater.

Wolves star Anthony Edwards vowed to improve upon his Game 3 performance, and he sure did, putting up 44 points on 16-for-25 shooting. He didn’t get much help on the offensive end, however, as Mike Conley was the team’s next-highest scorer at 15 points.

Here are a few takeaways from Sunday’s Game 4.

The champs are here

Oh, you didn’t think the Nuggets would just lie down, did you?

Whatever went wrong in the first two games of this series appears to have been rectified, as the defending champs have exerted their will upon the Timberwolves, who suddenly look stunned and timid. The Nuggets have clearly locked in on defense, with Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope using their physicality, quickness and craftiness to bother pretty much every player on the floor. Edwards had 44 points, but much of it was due to spectacular offense rather than continual defensive lapses by Denver.

Offensively, it’s a tale as old as time — though this one involves two beasts. Jokic was brilliant in the first and fourth quarters, while Murray rode the momentum from his buzzer-beater just before halftime into a scorching start to the third quarter. Then in crunch time, the unflappable duo spammed the pick-and-roll that they’ve been perfecting for nearly a decade, leading to great shot after great shot to put the Wolves away.

You hate to use the phrase, “woke a sleeping giant,” because the Nuggets had no choice but to wake up. It certainly seems, however, that the Nuggets have seized back momentum along with home-court advantage as the series shifts to Game 5.

Gordon (almost) perfect

While Aaron Gordon may be known for dropping diss tracks on Slam Dunk Contest judges who refuse to give him a perfect score, he certainly didn’t need to worry about perfection on Sunday. The dynamic 6-foot-8 forward made his first 10 shots, collecting his only miss with under four minutes left in the game.

And it wasn’t all dunks — though he had his fair share of those. Gordon also went 2-for-2 from 3-point range, as he’s knocked down 8 of his last 11 attempts from beyond the arc. When he’s making 3s, the Nuggets offense is basically unstoppable, particularly with the way that the Wolves are playing him. Rudy Gobert generally sags off of Gordon to provide help, and has no interest in guarding him on the perimeter. So, when Gordon hits those shots, it’s devastating for Minnesota.

You can’t expect Gordon to continue to hit 3s at this clip, but the confidence he’s displaying bodes well for Denver in the rest of this series. If he can provide 20-plus points in addition to his incredible defense and vertical spacing, the Nuggets will be in good shape.

Troublesome Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns is so talented offensively that his bad games are few and far between. But when he’s bad, he’s really bad, and unfortunately for Minnesota that was the case on Sunday. The 7-footer went 1-for-10 from the field in the first half and finished at 5-of 18-for the game, including 1-of-4 from 3-point range. He ended with 13 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, which just isn’t good enough from the man that even Edwards calls the team’s best offensive player.

It wasn’t just that Towns was missing — everyone has off nights — but he took some simply horrendous shots in what looked like an effort to force himself back on track. Take, for example, this attempt from the second quarter as the Timberwolves were in the process of trimming down Denver’s sizeable lead. Towns catches the ball in a disadvantageous position, gets into his shooting motion before he even looks at the basket, then forces up a long 2-point jumper with 15 seconds on the shot clock.

These are the types of shots that drive you crazy with Towns, and the ones that have prevented him from reaching the superstar level. He’d been awesome in the first three games of the series, averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and two assists on 63/64/80 shooting splits, so this is likely an ugly anomaly. But on Sunday, with Edwards doing all he could, Minnesota just needed more from their second All-Star.

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