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Friday’s NBA playoff takeaways: Pacers outlast Knicks; Nuggets rout Timberwolves

Friday’s NBA playoff takeaways: Pacers outlast Knicks; Nuggets rout Timberwolves

By The Athletic NBA Staff

May 11, 2024

By Eric Nehm, Fred Katz, Jon Krawczynski, Tony Jones and David Aldridge

The Indiana Pacers battled back after giving up a double-digit lead to the New York Knicks to win 111-106 after a clutch 3-pointer from Andrew Nembhard gave them breathing room late in the fourth quarter. The Pacers earned their first win of the series and avoided a daunting 3-0 hole.

Andrew Nembhard knocks down the three to take the lead with 16 seconds remaining 😱 pic.twitter.com/CLDUjEoqr2

— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) May 11, 2024

The Denver Nuggets were in control from start to finish against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. The Nuggets won 117-90 in lopsided fashion, finally looking like the championship-level version of themselves. Game 4 in Minnesota will be pivotal as Denver looks to even the series at two games apiece.

Pacers 111, Knicks 106 Game 4: Sunday in Indiana

Series: New York leads 2-1

Pacers pull out an ugly win, but a win nonetheless It was not pretty, but the Pacers are not going to care about that. It doesn’t matter that 111 is the fewest points they’ve scored in a game during this series.

Or that Tyrese Haliburton committed a late turnover. Or that they fouled Jalen Brunson in the final two minutes and sent him to the free-throw line. They won. And that is all that matters for tonight.

After two games played at an up-and-down pace that suited their regular-season style well, Indiana switched things up in Game 3 and got into a physical, ugly game with the Knicks.

Haliburton looked spectacular at various points and put up 35 points, four rebounds and seven assists, but the game was decided by a 31-foot heave by Nembhard just before the shot clock expired to give the Pacers a three-point lead with 17.8 seconds left.

It was ugly, but Indiana pulled it out to take its first game of this second-round series. — Eric Nehm, Bucks beat writer

A bruised Brunson looked unlike himself This was not Brunson’s night. New York has to hope he looks more like himself come Game 4.

Brunson scored 26 points and dished out six assists, but it took him 26 shots to get there. The Pacers hounded him, switching up the main defender on him to Aaron Nesmith from the onset of the game. If Brunson struggles, it’s usually against length.

Nesmith provided a longer option than Nemhard and T.J. McConnell, who had taken turns on Brunson over the first two games. Nesmith got in Brunson’s face. He was physical fighting through screens. He stayed in front of the point guard the whole way.

Of course, it was easier to do so than usual Friday.

Brunson entered the game questionable with a foot injury and appeared hampered throughout the night, limping at times and not showing off his usual burst. He couldn’t quite drive by Nesmith. He had trouble punishing Indiana when it switched onto him.

The Knicks almost squeezed out a win with their best player not looking like himself and without OG Anunoby. But they need Brunson to win two more against Indiana. — Fred Katz, Knicks beat writer

(Photo: David Berding / Getty Images)

Timberwolves 117, Nuggets 90 Game 4: Sunday in Minnesota

Series: Minnesota leads 2-1

Nuggets get the hot start they’ve been looking for The Nuggets have finally played a game in their Western Conference semifinal series against the Timberwolves with some physicality.

Denver finally won a first quarter. And for the first time in the postseason, the Nuggets finally won a first half.

These are all things that have been sore subjects for Denver, not only in this matchup against the Wolves, but in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets beating the Lakers 4-1 masked these deficiencies to a large degree, but they have been put on front street against Minnesota.

In Friday night’s win at the Target Center, Denver played its best game of the playoffs. The Nuggets not only owned the first quarter, but they owned 48 minutes. They looked like the defending champions people have begged them to be all week.

They sent a message that this wouldn’t be easy for the Timberwolves.

But, winning a first quarter is what Denver coach Michael Malone clamored for during the week. Just win a first quarter and build on that. Malone focused on baby steps, instead of trying to take down the entire pyramid that represented a 2-0 deficit in this series, and the Nuggets responded.

Nikola Jokić responded with a masterclass of 24 points, and 14 rebounds and nine assists. Jamal Murray responded by scoring 24 points of his own and looking like Jamal Murray. Michael Porter Jr. responded with 21 points, and Denver responded by controlling a game when Minnesota had previously controlled the series.

Of course, it gets tougher from here. The Nuggets are still down 2-1. Minnesota’s been emphatically put on notice, so Sunday night’s Game 4 is bound to be hotly contested. But for Friday night, Denver looked like Denver.

And that’s something we have seen far too little of in this postseason. — Tony Jones, Jazz beat writer

Wolves lose steam in blowout loss Maybe the luggage that was carrying the Timberwolves’ defense back from Denver was lost on the way. After looking like the 1985 Bears in an overpowering performance in Game 2 in Denver, the Wolves looked more like, well, the 2009 Timberwolves with their flat-footed performance in Game 3.

The Nuggets made 54 percent of their shots, 14 3-pointers and were put on the line 20 times in a way-too-easy win over a team that had looked like the best in the NBA through its first six playoff games. The Nuggets mostly got whatever they wanted on Friday night, with Murray finding his rhythm and Jokić putting up another big stat line.

There were three days off in between Games 2 and 3, which appears to have been enough for Murray to get extra treatment on his aching calf and the Wolves to lose the edge that they played with throughout a 6-0 start to the playoffs.

Gobert returned to the lineup after missing Game 2 for the birth of his son, but had just six points and four rebounds. Mike Conley struggled with 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting. Edwards finished with 19 points and six rebounds.

The best news for the Wolves is they can tell themselves that they played as bad a game as possible. That it wasn’t necessarily the Nuggets being great and more about the Wolves playing so poorly.

But the danger is they have let the champs back into this series when it appeared they had them ready to fold. Now the pressure is on to regain their edge for Sunday’s Game 4. — Jon Krawczynski, Timberwolves beat writer

Can Murray duplicate this performance with his injured calf? Malone spent the last three days calling out his team in every way imaginable, including pregame tonight. And the Nuggets responded with a performance befitting a defending NBA champion in their rout of the Timberwolves.

But you do wonder how Murray, who got three days off before coming back with a strong Game 3 performance, silencing the Target Center crowd that booed from minute one Friday, will recover with just one day off between Games 3 and 4 after having three days off after Game 2 to rest and get treatment on his injured calf.

Murray was sensational Friday, getting elevation he didn’t show in either of the first two games of the series, knocking down 3s and getting to the basket much better. But will his calf let him do that again Sunday night? — David Aldridge, Senior NBA columnist

Saturday’s playoff schedule:
Thunder at Mavericks: 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Series tied 1-1)
Celtics at Cavaliers: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Series tied 1-1)
Required reading
Don’t count out the Cavs and Donovan Mitchell, who may have the Celtics right where they want them
Knicks are running out of players, so their communication must be even better
(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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