Fueled by Conley, Wolves roll by 45 to force G7

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MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn’t the Minnesota Timberwolves’ dominant defense that Anthony Edwards credited for his team’s 115-70 shellacking of the Denver Nuggets in Game 6 on Thursday. It wasn’t his own ascendant offense either, after Edwards led all scorers with 27 points and helped the Wolves outscore Denver by 43 in the 34 minutes he was on the court.

No, according to Edwards, it was simply the presence of Minnesota’s 36-year-old point guard that made all the difference in the Wolves snapping a three-game losing streak in the Western Conference semifinals to force Game 7 on Sunday.

“We got Mike Conley back,” Edwards said. “That was it.”

Conley, a 17-year veteran, missed Tuesday’s Game 5 because of a sore right Achilles tendon. The Nuggets’ defense responded by attacking Edwards with double-teams all night, and the Wolves missed Conley’s ability to balance the court.

“Obviously I wanted to play last game,” Conley said. “Just couldn’t move at all. Tonight it was a no-brainer. I was going to try to find a way. We’re just better when we’re a complete team.”

Conley had 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and no turnovers, but his impact was amplified by Minnesota’s ability to deny Denver a chance to key in on Edwards.

Edwards struggled with 18 points on 5-for-15 shooting and 4 turnovers in Game 5. He had a season-high 102 touches, according to Second Spectrum, and shouldered an outsized portion of the offensive load for a Minnesota squad that was starting to sputter against the defending champs.

With Conley back in the lineup, Edwards’ touches were cut to 64 in Game 6, and he was more efficient, shooting 8-for-17 and committing only one turnover.

“Mike means everything for us,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “Unbelievable next to Anthony in terms of being able to set him up, play off of him, be in his ear all of the time. Smart defender. Just everything you want in an experienced, veteran point guard and just the very fact that Ant doesn’t have to handle it every single time, that alone helps us. … We desperately missed him the other night.”

In the three previous games, the Wolves had been missing the type of lockdown defense that carried them to a 2-0 lead to open the series. The coaching staff wanted to remind them what they were capable of and showed the players a video of their defensive highlights before tipoff.

“It was like kind of a hype video,” said Wolves forward Jaden McDaniels, who had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal on Thursday. “It had a good effect on us. Just showing that we’re able to compete with these guys. Like, we’ve done it before.”

The defensive performance that followed was staggering. The Wolves held Denver to 30.2% shooting overall, including 19.4% from 3. They won the rebounding battle 62-43, won the turnover battle 12-6 and scored 19 points off those turnovers. The 70 points the Nuggets mustered were a season low, including both the regular season and the playoffs, 10 points fewer than Denver’s previous low when the Wolves clamped them down in Game 2. The 45-point margin of victory was the second largest in NBA history by a team facing elimination in a postseason game.

“I think we shouldn’t [forget about this loss],” Nuggets star Nikola Jokic said. “I think we need to [let it] sink in. It’s a great loss. They destroyed us, and you should learn from it.”

The Wolves limited Jokic to 22 points and 2 assists after he had 40 and 13 in Game 5, and they held Jamal Murray to 10 points on 4-for-18 shooting after he had 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting in Game 5.

Karl-Anthony Towns (10 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists) was the primary defender on Jokic, and Edwards took it upon himself to shadow Murray.

“I want to be the best player on both sides of the ball in the NBA,” Edwards said. “It’s something that I’ve been working on. It all comes with being in shape. … I wasn’t tired at all chasing him around and following him everywhere he went and contesting all his shots. He’s a great player, man, and I feel like I did a good job tonight.”

The Wolves head into Sunday’s Game 7 with a chance to reach the conference finals for the first time in 20 years.

“They’re the defending champs, so it’s going to be super tough,” Edwards said. “They’re at home. They’re at the crib. Their fans are crazy. It’s going to be super loud. But I feel like as a competitor, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. … I’m super pumped for it. I’m super happy. I’m ready to play it.”

It sounds like the Nuggets are ready, too.

“It’s all about the mindset now,” Murray said. “All that’s behind us, all those games we’re talking about [are] all behind us. Now it’s just Sunday, who wins those 48 minutes and how are we going to do that.”

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.

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