Monday, May 20, 2024
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Timberwolves dominate, Knicks win another thriller; PSG vs. Dortmund UCL semifinals preview

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🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially …

THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES AND THE NEW YORK KNICKS

Wolves are known as ruthless hunters who dominate those who dare challenge them.

The Timberwolves, as it turns out, can do that too.

Minnesota crushed the Nuggets 106-80 in an all-encompassing beatdown that was somehow even more devastating than the impressive score indicates. Minnesota leads the reigning champions 2-0.

  • It’s the largest road playoff win in Timberwolves history.
  • Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns both scored 27 points; Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Naz Reid had 14 apiece off the bench.
  • Minnesota hammered Denver in the paint, 52-34, blocked a team playoff-record 12 shots and held Denver to a season-low in points.
  • Oh, and they did it all without Rudy Gobert, the likely soon-to-be four-time Defensive Player of the Year, who missed the game for the birth of his first child.

The Timberwolves are outstanding on both ends. Let’s start with the defense, which has brought the Nuggets free-flowing offense to a halt. Nikola Jokic, generally regarded as the greatest player on the planet, looks stunningly ordinary, his majestic game minimized by the Timberwolves’ length, strength, versatility, activity and terrific game plan. Jamal Murray can’t get any separation against defensive savants Jaden McDaniels and Alexander-Walker.

Offensively, Towns’ tantalizing all-around game is coming to life, and the Nuggets have no answer for his combination of size, shooting and ability to put it on the deck and score. Edwards is terrorizing Denver’s smaller backcourt. It’s all working magnificently.

The Knicks‘ late-game magic, meanwhile, continues, led by one of the best players to call The Garden home in a long, long time. Jalen Brunson scored 21 of his 43 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Knicks to a 121-117 Game 1 win over the Pacers.

Brunson joined some historic company in the process. He’s the …

  • fourth player with four straight 40-point games, joining Michael Jordan, Bernard King and Jerry West
  • first player with at least 40 points and five assists in four straight playoff games

Brad Botkin says, “We have to start having the ‘is Jalen Brunson the best point guard in the league?’ conversation.” And he’s right. But Brunson wasn’t alone. The ‘Nova Knicks were in full effect: Donte DiVincenzo hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute left, and Josh Hart had 24 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. This team is tough, fun and really good, led by that trio.

I called it “late-game magic,” but it was also “late-game luck.” More on that in a bit.

👍 Honorable mentions

😠 And not such a good morning for …

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THE INDIANA PACERS AND THE DENVER NUGGETS

There’s no other way to say it: The Pacers got a brutal whistle in Game 1.

  • The go-ahead DiVincenzo 3-pointer came after the referees called a kicked ball on Aaron Nesmith on what was a clean steal. The postgame pool report acknowledged it was the wrong call. Kicked ball calls, for some reason, cannot be challenged. 
  • With 12 seconds left, down one, Myles Turner was called for a moving screen against DiVincenzo, who showed he belongs on Broadway as well as the Garden with his terrific acting job. This time, Rick Carlisle challenged, but it was for naught. It was always unlikely the refs would overturn a judgment call made moments before, anyway. It was — at best — a questionable call.
  • Turner expects “glaring things” in the league’s Last Two Minute Report.

Botkin also lambasted the officiating.

“Also, spare me with the ‘it’s so hard to be an NBA official’ sympathy note. Of course it’s hard. That’s why these men and women are supposed to be the absolute best of the best. Same as an NBA player, any one of whom would get absolutely roasted if they made this many mistakes inside the final two minutes of a tie playoff game,” Botkin wrote.

To be very, very clear, the Pacers didn’t help themselves down the stretch, either. You create your own luck, and the Pacers didn’t create enough. They had some awful turnovers. Tyrese Haliburton is clearly not healthy. He scored just six points on 2-for-6 shooting — tied for his second-fewest shots attempted as a Pacer. But the officiating didn’t help, and Indiana lost a game it could have won.

Denver, on the other hand, had no chance to win, and unless there are big changes, it has no chance to come back. The Nuggets — so used to carving up opponent defenses — look shockingly unsure of themselves, unable to adjust and, frankly, overwhelmed. What’s more stunning is that they’re being out-fought. Out-willed. Out-toughed.

Murray had a sideline outburst late in the first half in which he scored two points on 1-of-10 shooting and yapped at officials seemingly nonstop. Jokic was similarly frustrated. Michael Malone absolutely lost it and somehow wasn’t even given a technical, much less kicked out. It was an awful night all around, and Malone didn’t mince words after the game

“They kicked our ass. So yeah, it got away from us,” Malone said.

If Game 1 was a gut punch, Game 2 was a knockdown. We’ll see if the Nuggets get off the canvas and fight back. 

👎 Not so honorable mentions

⚽ PSG hosts Borussia Dortmund with UEFA Champions League final spot on the line

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Today, we get a finalist. PSG host Borussia Dortmund, hoping to overcome a 1-0 first-leg deficit in their UEFA Champions League semifinal matchup. Here’s how to watch.

Jonathan Johnson says it’s PSG’s biggest match ever at Parc des Princes, and adding to the drama is Kylian Mbappe becoming a free agent at the season’s end. Leading the club to its first Champions League title would augment his already-legendary status for the French giants.

After Mbappe and his teammates missed many opportunities last week, Tom Fornelli expects both sides to take advantage of their chances in his Corner Picks.

  • FornellI: “I can’t help but believe Dortmund needed a two-goal lead if it wanted a realistic chance to get through, but the price on PSG is too heavy. My gut is PSG score two goals early before Dortmund pull one back, only to see PSG finish it off late. So, yeah, I’m going to sprinkle a little on PSG to win 3-1 (+950), but the far more logical bet is on both teams to score. There were too many chances in the first match to think we’ll see another clean sheet this week. The Pick: Both Teams to Score (-155)

You can see all of our experts’ picks here.

🏆 Victor Wembanyama unanimously voted Rookie of the Year

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Victor Wembanyama exceeded even the highest of expectations in his historically great NBA debut season. Monday, he received recognition for it. Wembanyama was unanimously voted Rookie of the Year, becoming the sixth unanimous winner ever.

Wembanyama averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists, led the league with 3.6 blocks per game and had so many ridiculous stat lines that looking for comparisons was fool’s errand, Sam Quinn noted back in March. Wembanyama was the …

  • 21st rookie to average 20 points and 10 rebounds, and the first since Blake Griffin in 2010-11
  • Eighth rookie to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists, and the first since Griffin in 2010-11
  • ONLY rookie to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks

Wembanyama showed poise through a tough season for his Spurs (22-60) and played in 71 games, no small feat for someone of his size. Even as a lost season wound down, he continued to improve: He had a 40-point, 20-rebound, seven-assist game in late March against the Knicks. Throughout the year, he made the spectacular look comically easy on both ends.

Overall, it was an incredible debut, fittingly capped with some hardware. This summer, Wemby will represent France in the Olympics while the Spurs hope to surround him with talent and build another dynasty around their latest superstar big man.

📺 What we’re watching Tuesday

PSG vs. Borussia Dortmund, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
🏀 Game 1: Cavaliers at Celtics, 7 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 2: Hurricanes at Rangers, 7 p.m. on ESPN
Astros at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. on TBS
🏀 Game 1: Mavericks at Thunder, 9:30 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 1: Avalanche at Stars, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN

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