Jamal Murray scored 24 points and dished out eight assists in his first playoff game since the 2020 NBA bubble and the top-seeded Denver Nuggets routed the Minnesota Timberwolves 109-80 Sunday night.
Nikola Jokic added 13 points, 14 rebounds and a half dozen assists in 28 minutes and Michael Porter Jr. scored 18 points as Denver snapped a five-game skid in playoff openers.
Anthony Edwards led Minnesota with 18 points. Karl-Anthony Towns, who was rounding into form this month after missing 52 games with a bad calf, missed 10 of his first 12 shots and finished with 11 points.
The Timberwolves hadn’t been held to so few points since Nov. 19, 2016.
Jokic said during the Nuggets’ week off that he was eager to see how they’d do do with Murray and Porter back in the lineup with him after injuries and surgeries waylaid Denver’s Big Three each of the last two postseasons.
The answer was emphatic: the trio combined for 55 points, 33 rebounds and 16 assists — with just two combined turnovers — as all five of Denver’s starters scored in double figures as did reserve Bruce Brown, who chipped in 14.
The Nuggets were the only one of four home teams to win Sunday as the Bucks, Grizzlies and Suns all surrendered homecourt advantage to lower seeds in the first round.
The opener marked Murray’s first playoff appearance since his breakout performance in the 2020 NBA bubble, when he twice put up 50 points on the Jazz in helping the Nuggets reach the Western Conference Finals where they lost to LeBron James and the Lakers. Murray tore his left ACL eight months later and missed the Nuggets’ last two playoff runs.
“It is kind of wild to think it’s been that long,” Denver coach Michael Malone said before tip-off. “I’m just so happy for him, proud of him. It has not been an easy journey for him, but I think this year, we’ve seen Jamal have moments where that’s the Jamal Murray that we all love and remember.
“I think he’s just really excited to get back out there, play, and remind people of what he’s capable of. We know how important he is to us. I’m just very, very thankful that, we as a team, are healthy going into the postseason.”
That includes Porter, who sat out a year ago following back surgery.
The Timberwolves were without starting forward Jaden McDaniels, their best perimeter defender, who broke his right hand punching a wall in Minnesota’s final regular season game.
Malone said before tip-off he expected some chippiness in the series: “I don’t mind spicy. This is the playoffs. This isn’t like regular season games.”
He got just that in the third quarter when rookie Christian Braun got into a tussle with Kyle Anderson after Anderson’s flagrant foul. As teammates rushed into the fray, Murray pointed to the scoreboard, which read: Nuggets 83, Timberwolves 58.
It’s no surprise Timberwolves basketball boss Tim Connelly spoke so glowingly about the Nuggets, whose nucleus he helped assemble before being lured away by the T-Wolves 11 months ago.
“Michael Malone is a fantastic head coach. The staff is full of future head coaches,” Connelly said at the morning shootaround. “Obviously, Nikola, best player in the world. ... From A-to-Z, a first-class organization, great ownership.”
Connelly shared intel on Jokic and his teammates with Timberwolves coach Chris Finch, who said, “his background on this — very, very helpful.”
Timberwolves: Minnesota surrendered the first eight points of the game and the first nine points after halftime. The Wolves fought back to take a 17-16 lead in the first quarter but there was no similar comeback in the third.
Nuggets: Denver outscored Minnesota 32-14 in the third quarter to build an 87-58 lead. ... Jokic was sent back into the game with the Nuggets ahead by 30 with 7:46 left in the fourth and picked up a flagrant foul, his fifth, at the 6:50 mark when he elbowed Anthony Edwards in the face. He fouled out 13 seconds later.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Denver.