Wolves storm back, knock out champion Nuggets in Game 7

KAT's putback dunk takes fight out of Nuggets in Game 7 (0:30)

Karl-Anthony Towns speeds in for a massive putback jam to help the Timberwolves seal their Game 7 win vs. the Nuggets. (0:30)

DENVER -- The Minnesota Timberwolves' historic 20-point comeback over the Denver Nuggets in Sunday's Game 7 to earn a trip to the Western Conference finals actually started 13 months ago at bar a few miles away from Ball Arena.

The Timberwolves had just lost to the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs in April 2023, with Anthony Edwards' potential game-tying 3 coming up empty as time expired in Game 5. Afterward, Edwards and a couple of teammates went to a cocktail lounge, Forget Me Not, in the Cherry Creek neighborhood, with their chartered flight back home not scheduled to leave until the next morning.

Of all of the gin joints in all of the towns in all of the world, Denver point guard Jamal Murray -- fresh off a 35-point showing in the closeout game -- just so happened to walk into the same bar as the Timberwolves.

And Edwards, a budding star yet to have the breakout postseason that has turned him into a bona fide superstar this spring, had a message to deliver to Murray.

"He was talking s---," Edwards told ESPN as he walked down the ramp toward the team bus after his club's 98-90 victory on Sunday. "He was telling Mike [Conley], 'I'm sick of you, you can't guard me,' and all that.

"I told him, 'We'll be back. You'll see us again when we're fully loaded.'"

Edwards' declaration came to fruition Sunday.

The Timberwolves, who trailed by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, stormed back to complete the largest comeback in a Game 7 in the past 25 postseasons to dethrone the defending champion Nuggets.

"It shows who we are," Edwards said following the victory. "Once we really lock in on the defensive end, man, we're a hell of a team to beat."

Meanwhile, the Nuggets became the fifth consecutive defending NBA champion to fail to reach the conference finals -- and the first team in league history to lead by 15 or more at halftime of a Game 7 and go on to lose.

Just as Edwards proclaimed, it was an entire team effort that took Denver down, with six Timberwolves scoring in double digits as compared to just two for the Nuggets. It was needed too, with Edwards struggling through a 6-for-24 shooting night.

Timberwolves four-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns led the way, turning in the most impressive performance of his nine-year career.

Towns, the franchise's No. 1 pick in 2015 and the longest-tenured member of the team, scored 23 points with 12 rebounds, 2 steals and a blocked shot. More importantly, he gave about as effective a one-on-one defensive effort against Denver's three-time MVP, Nikola Jokic, as anyone could be expected to give.

"I think you see how at peace and happy he is right now," Minnesota coach Chris Finch said of Towns. "He had to trust that he was never going to be marginalized. All young players always think they can do it all by themselves, but in this league, nobody can.

"I couldn't be more happy and proud for him. Just because I think he's faced a lot of unfair criticism when it comes to the postseason at times."

Jokic finished with 34 points and 19 rebounds but shot 13-for-28 from the field and 2-for-10 on 3-pointers. Murray scored 35 on 13-for-27 shooting with 3 assists and 4 turnovers.

It was Towns' fifth 20-point effort of the postseason, with all five of them coming on the road.

"It was tough, man, because I couldn't find myself, my rhythm tonight," Edwards said. "So, I just had to trust my teammates. ... I just had to make the right plays throughout the rest of the game. I did that, and my teammates made shots. Big shoutout to those guys."

The Timberwolves used a 32-9 run from the 10:50 mark of the third quarter to 11:14 of the fourth to wrest control of the game from the Nuggets. While Edwards started just 1-for-9 from the field, he found more success after halftime, scoring nine points in the third, including a step-back 3 to beat the quarter buzzer. Rudy Gobert, Minnesota's four-time Defensive Player of the Year, added an unexpected offensive punch in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his 13 points in the final frame -- including a miraculous, arcing turnaround jump shot -- after starting the game 1-for-5.

"I think when Rudy hit the turnaround, I was like, 'Yeah, we probably got them,'" Edwards said when asked when he truly felt momentum had turned in Minnesota's favor. "Big shoutout to Big Ru, hit the turnaround on their a--."

In the second half, Gobert helped the Timberwolves hold the Nuggets to just 37 points on 35.9% shooting (19% from 3) and outrebound Denver 29-15.

"It feels great," Gobert said. "Beating a team like they are, an incredible team, a championship team, with the best player in the world, it feels good."

Minnesota went ahead by as many as 10 in the fourth on an Edwards corner 3 with 3:05 remaining, causing the Nuggets to call timeout as Edwards screamed and jumped for joy, hugging a courtside fan. A loud contingent of traveling Minnesota fans filled the arena with a "Let's go Wolves!" chant to punctuate the moment.

"That was dope," said Minnesota center Naz Reid, who continued to shine in his Sixth Man of the Year role with 11 points off the bench. "We had our own section, and they were going against the whole stadium."

The Timberwolves' 17-year veteran, Mike Conley, chipped in 10 points and 8 rebounds and broke an 0-4 career mark in Game 7s. Jaden McDaniels, whom Edwards called the team's MVP of the playoffs thus far, scored 23 points on 7-for-10 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block.

The 20th meeting of the two teams between the regular season and the playoffs since the start of the 2022-23 campaign turned out to be a classic -- and the most compelling game of the series. (Only two of the first six games of this second-round series had been decided by fewer than 10 points, while three games involved a final margin of 25-plus points.)

"That was a hell of a series," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "They gave us all we could handle, and they ended up winning Game 7 on our home court, which is a tough one to swallow. But we'll be back."

Minnesota improved to 2-0 in Game 7 in franchise history and is the NBA's only undefeated franchise in Game 7.

And Towns pointed out that Sunday happened to be Timberwolves legend Kevin Garnett's 48th birthday, making it all the more appropriate that Minneapolis is going to party like it's 2004. For the first time in two decades, when Garnett & Co. lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, the Wolves are back in the conference finals.

"I just want these guys to understand. I don't think they understand what they just did," the 36-year-old Conley said. "Accomplishing what they have and getting to the West Conference finals is a great opportunity. Don't take it for granted. Celebrate the moment now, but be ready to go. You have another team waiting for you. Everybody's in the way of your goals, so you have to be ready to go."

The Timberwolves will face the Dallas Mavericks for the right to represent the West in the NBA Finals. Minnesota will host Game 1 on Wednesday.

The Wolves opened as -150 favorites to win the series over the Mavs, who check in at +130, per ESPN BET odds.