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The Timberwolves Had A Very Bad 20 Seconds

Jamal Murray stares down Kevin Harlan
TNT

Too many things happen over the course of an NBA game for it to be possible to ever point out one particular play, or even a sequence of plays, as the reason the final score ended up where it did. But sometimes a sequence is too big, too noticeable, and too well-timed to be seen as anything but the deciding moment. We got one such sequence just before halftime in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, which the Nuggets won on Sunday, 115-107.

The Nuggets got out to a big lead in the first half, but as the second quarter was winding down the Timberwolves had cut the deficit down to a manageable size. Anthony Edwards hit a pull-up three with 48 seconds left in the half, giving him 23 points on the night and cutting the lead to seven. The Nuggets answered with a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three, which restored the 10-point lead with 20 seconds left. All the Timberwolves had to do at that point was take their time, engineer one last good possession, and glide into halftime facing a single-digit deficit. Instead, Edwards got stripped on his way to the basket, which led to a leak-out dunk by Michael Porter Jr. With 1.6 seconds left to play, Nickeil Alexander-Walker overthrew a long inbound pass intended for Jaden McDaniels up the sideline. The ball was scooped by Jamal Murray, who tiptoed his way into a half-court shot that ripped its way through the net. Then he had a little moment with Kevin Harlan.

Those eight points, scored in just 20 seconds, hung on the Timberwolves like a lead cape for the rest of the game. Edwards made a furious second-half charge, but he could never quite break his team through the buffer those eight points provided. He finished with 44 points on 16-of-25 shooting, putting on the kind of performance that deserved to be remembered as one that led his team to a legendary playoff victory. Instead, he ended up with an eight-point loss on his hands.

This series, now tied 2-2, has come a long way already. The two teams have basically mirrored each other, each losing one game at home in which they got out-played and out-executed, and then losing a second at home in which they got humiliated. Edwards is back where he was this time last year, playing heroic, ridiculous basketball while being severely let down by his friends—Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns combined for 24 points on 8-of-23 shooting in Game 4. The Nuggets are back where they were just after the all-star break, when Murray had a burst in his step and they were capable of doing more than just outmuscling an uninspiring Lakers team.

Game 5 is set up to be a classic. The Nuggets have beaten the fraud allegations that were pinned to them after Game 2, and have proven that they are capable of holding Minnesota's defensive jaws at bay. Edwards has proven that he really is like that guy, and that he can take this team anywhere it wants to go if he just gets even a little bit of help from his all-star teammates. May this one go seven.

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