Are the Wolves Ready For Denver's Final Haymaker?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves came to play in front of a rowdy Target Center crowd on Thursday. Game 6 was Minnesota’s first and only win at home in the Denver Nuggets series, a disappointing reality considering they won the first two games in Ball Arena. Still, the Wolves must prepare for a championship-level performance from Denver in Game 7.

If the NBA has taught us anything, blowout wins have minimal effect on the next game’s outcome. We saw the Wolves win convincingly in Game 2. Still, the Nuggets responded with a dominating win in Game 3. The Wolves likely went into that game with a similar gameplan to the first two games. Can you blame them?

Minnesota is facing the defending champs; it was never going to be that easy. You have to go through Denver to get to the NBA Finals. The Nuggets may be the No. 2 seed, but that doesn’t make the Oklahoma City Thunder, a young and inexperienced team facing elimination in Round 2, any better than the defending champions. It’s why many have considered this series to be the de facto Western Conference Finals.

Minnesota’s defense got back to its suffocating ways in Game 6 again. It was eerily similar, if not better, than their showing in Game 2. It’s difficult to limit an elite offensive team like Denver. On the other hand, it might be just as difficult for Denver to make Minnesota’s defense look below average consistently. Still, that’s what they did in Games 3 through 5.

It will be a back-and-forth battle between Chris Finch and Michael Malone to see whose adjustments will lead their team to the conference finals. The Nuggets countered the Wolves’ game plan after the first two games, but the Wolves finally figured the Nuggets out in Game 6. Denver and Minnesota have two of the most elite coaching staffs in the league, and this series has featured elite basketball on both ends of the court.

The story of the series has been about role players stepping up. Jaden McDaniels, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Naz Reid are game-changers for Minnesota. Similarly, Christian Braun, Reggie Jackson, and Justin Holiday are impact players for the Nuggets. Aaron Gordon starts for Denver, but we’ve seen him influence games when the Wolves don’t defend him.

Denver and Minnesota’s role players have the power to decide Game 7. The Wolves are throwing more double-teams at Jokic after his historic outing in Game 5. Therefore, his teammates must be much more efficient in those situations than in Game 6. The Nuggets defense has focused on Anthony Edwards, and the Wolves can use the boost Reid gave them in Game 1 or McDaniels in Game 6 to create space for Edwards to operate.

In a matter of a week, the Wolves went from Finals favorites to the verge of elimination. After winning on Thursday, Finch said the Wolves knew it would be a long series. Well, they were proven right. It has gone the distance. It won’t be easy, but this Wolves team has shown its capability to leave Ball Arena victorious.

This Sunday, everything will be on the line for Minnesota’s chance to appear in their first Western Conference Finals since 2004. This is the culmination of the series, the moment that will define these team’s journeys. It’s what many consider to be the two greatest words in basketball: Game 7.

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Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

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