Nuggets vs. Timberwolves score, takeaways: Nikola Jokic's 40-point masterpiece lifts Denver to Game 5 win

Nikola Jokic scored 40 points, added 13 assists and led the Denver Nuggets to a 112-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 5 of their second-round NBA playoff series on Tuesday night. The Nuggets have won three games in a row to take a 3-2 series lead, and the reigning champs are one win away from a return trip to the Western Conference finals.

Jokic received his third MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony, and he went out and played like it. It was the first time Jokic scored 40 points in these playoffs and marked his first career playoff game with more than 35 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. Jokic had 16 of his points in the third quarter as the Nuggets built a double-digit lead, and he had no trouble consistently scoring over Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

The Timberwolves were without starting guard Mike Conley in the Game 5 loss. Anthony Edwards, meanwhile, had his worst game of the series, finishing with 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

The Wolves will try to keep their season alive at home in Thursday's Game 6. Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 5.

It's Nikola's league, we're all just living in it

Nikola Jokic just became the first player in NBA history to score or assist on 70 total points without committing a single turnover in a playoff game. He did that against the No. 1 defense in the NBA, featuring a four-time Defensive Player of the Year. When asked after Game 1 how the Nuggets could handle Minnesota's trio of centers in Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid, he responded that Denver would need to "have a duplicate clone of myself."

Well, one Jokic was good enough for the Nuggets on Tuesday. He finished the game with 40 points and 13 assists. He had as many missed shots (seven) as he had rebounds. What's most impressive here is the way in which he did it. The Timberwolves through every imaginable coverage at him. He torched Gobert one-on-one (he made eight of his nine shots with Gobert as his primary defender). When they put Towns on him with Gobert as a roamer, he killed them as a passer. Naz Reid and Kyle Anderson got shots against him in both one-on-one and double situations. Nothing mattered.

In his last six playoff series, Jokic has faced a four-time Defensive Player of the Year in Gobert twice, a former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up in Anthony Davis twice, an All-Defense pick in Bam Adebayo and a former No. 1 overall pick in Deandre Ayton. None of them have had any answers. There are no answers. You might be able to beat the Nuggets by slowing down everyone else and making all of your own shots, but there's no strategy, no defender, no solution whatsoever to Jokic. The MVP is unstoppable.

Anthony Edwards finally hits the wall

Speaking of unstoppable stars, Anthony Edwards certainly looked like he fit that bill entering Game 5. He was averaging 32.1 points per game on 56% shooting this postseason before Tuesday. He's passed every test the playoffs have thrown his way thus far, and Tuesday was by far the biggest. The Timberwolves had just lost two in a row at home. Now they were playing the defending champs on the road without starting point guard Mike Conley. Minnesota's one hope of winning was a huge Edwards game.

And he just didn't have it in him. Edwards finished the game 5-of-15 from the floor for 18 points. He racked up nine assists without Conley, but Denver played him to pass. He frequently saw a second defender when he tried to navigate screens. His jump shot, which has gone in more this postseason than the numbers suggest that it should, finally cooled off. He managed to get to the line, which saved his night offensively, but otherwise, it was a real struggle against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

It's easy to forget that Edwards is still only 22. Players that young aren't supposed to be burdened with expectations this high. That Edwards looked ready for the moment for so long is a testament to what an outlier he's been this postseason. But Jokic is at the absolute peak of his powers. He's figured out how to solve any defense. Edwards is still a few years away from that point, and that's OK. Every superstar has a moment or two like this. That won't make it hurt any less if the Nuggets close out the series in the next two games, but it's just a fact of NBA life. The 22-year-old rarely makes it through an entire postseason unscathed.

Has Denver found its new Bruce Brown?

Depth has been Denver's biggest weakness throughout this championship window, and losing Bruce Brown and Jeff Green only exacerbated that issue. The Nuggets chose to build sustainably. Rather than importing veterans to solve their bench issues, the Nuggets trusted their youth. This postseason, that has meant the emergence of Christian Braun, who was in the rotation during last spring's title run, but has emerged as an essential sixth man this time around.

The Nuggets have now won the Braun minutes in all five games against the Timberwolves. They are a total of +27 with him on the floor, a particularly impressive feat when you remember how many of his minutes come with Denver's shakier bench lineups. He closed Game 4 ahead of Michael Porter Jr., and he played 28 minutes in the Game 5 victory.

Braun isn't Brown's equal as a shot-creator or individual defender, but he's bigger and has established himself as a lethal cutter and transition threat. His energy is infectious and fits the Nuggets to a tee. Aaron Gordon might be Jokic's favorite assist-recipient, but Braun is quickly emerging as another top target.

Finding bench players that fit into this particular team is harder than it seems. The Nuggets don't play offense the way other teams do. There's far less traditional pick-and-roll. Players aren't asked to just hang around the corners as much. Braun has mastered his role in that system in his second year, and that has helped keep Denver's bench afloat in this series.

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FINAL: Nuggets 112, Timberwolves 97

He's the MVP for a reason, folks. On the night Nikola Jokic accepted his third MVP trophy, he destroyed the Timberwolves to the tune of 40 points, 13 assists and 7 rebounds. Minnesota, playing without starting point guard Mike Conley, just couldn't match the Nuggets offensively. Anthony Edwards struggled on the way to an 18-point night, and were it not for 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves would've been blown out. Now the Nuggets will have a chance to close this series out on Thursday in Minnesota. They've won three in a row to completely swing this series after losing the first two.

May 15, 2024, 5:03 AM
May. 15, 2024, 1:03 am EDT
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There's nothing you can do

Make it 40 points for Nikola Jokic. Not one of them has come easily. The Timberwolves have thrown every imaginable defense his way. One-on-ones with the Defensive Player of the Year. Every manner of double. None of it has mattered. Nikola Jokic just keeps putting the ball in the air and it keeps flying through the net. 

May 15, 2024, 4:59 AM
May. 15, 2024, 12:59 am EDT
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How long can Jokic rest?

With Nikola Jokic on the bench here to start the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves have gone on a quick 6-0 run to cut the deficit down to 10 points. This has been Denver's problem for years: they need to find rest for Jokic, but they can't always survive minutes without him. How long can Denver leave Jokic on the bench?

May 15, 2024, 4:43 AM
May. 15, 2024, 12:43 am EDT
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Jokic is embarrassing the Defensive Player of the Year

Nikola Jokic has 35 points on 13-of-17 shooting. He's going at Rudy Gobert one-on-one whenever he wants and completely humiliating him. Reminder: Jokic's last four playoff series have all come against for All-Defense centers: Gobert, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo and Davis again. It hasn't mattered. Nothing matters. There isn't a player in the world that can guard him.

May 15, 2024, 4:35 AM
May. 15, 2024, 12:35 am EDT
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The Nuggets are beating the Timberwolves at their own game

Minnesota's identity this season began with its size. It has three high-end centers, including the Defensive Player of the Year and the Sixth Man of the Year. And the Nuggets are outscoring them 48-26 in the paint. Nikola Jokic has figured out everything the Timberwolves have thrown at him. Jamal Murray is starting to get some separation on drives, and Aaron Gordon is always hovering near the rim. For the first time all season, the Timberwolves are getting bullied.

May 15, 2024, 4:22 AM
May. 15, 2024, 12:22 am EDT
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Jokic being Jokic

Nikola Jokic hadn't reached double-digit assists in this series prior to Game 5. He's already at 12 halfway through the third quarter. Here's the most spectacular of the bunch to give Denver a seven-point lead.

May 15, 2024, 4:18 AM
May. 15, 2024, 12:18 am EDT
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So much for Denver's lead

The Nuggets led by six at halftime. We've played two minutes and 13 seconds in the third quarter, and suddenly the Timberwolves lead, 55-53. Karl-Anthony Towns has been at the center of his run, and he has 16 points on the night. With Anthony Edwards struggling, Minnesota needed a big night from Towns, and he's delivering.

May 15, 2024, 4:07 AM
May. 15, 2024, 12:07 am EDT
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HALFTIME: Nuggets 50, Timberwolves 44

The Nuggets are in control through one half of Game 5, and they have their MVP to thank for that. Nikola Jokic leads all scorers with 19 points, and he's added eight assists to boot. Meanwhile, Minnesota isn't getting nearly as much production out of its superstar, as Anthony Edwards is shooting 1-of-8 from the floor. Missing Mike Conley has put much more pressure on his shoulders to create shots, and he's struggled with that so far in Game 5.

May 15, 2024, 3:47 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:47 pm EDT
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It's been that kind of night for Ant

Anthony Edwards just thought he was going to the line for free-throws. On replay, the foul is overturned, and a jump-ball is called to determine possession. Edwards is 1-of-7 from the floor tonight, and he has really struggled to generate offense with Mike Conley sidelined.

May 15, 2024, 3:41 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:41 pm EDT
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Another huge Christian Braun game

Christian Braun closed Game 4 for the Nuggets over Michael Porter Jr. He's been spectacular in 12 first-half minutes so far tonight as well. He's playing great defense, but more importantly, he's running the floor better than anyone, hustling the Nuggets into advantageous positions that they've capitalized on to build a 43-39 lead.

May 15, 2024, 3:34 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:34 pm EDT
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Turns out, having Aaron Gordon around helps

Aaron Gordon missed most of the first half due to foul trouble. This is just a glimpse of what having him back on the floor means for Denver. His energy and athleticism is so vital to what they do.

May 15, 2024, 3:30 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:30 pm EDT
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Malone's tech pays off

Well... remember that technical foul we mentioned a few minutes ago? It turns out, it was the best point Michael Malone ever sacrificed. The Timberwolves just got called for three consecutive offensive fouls. Maybe the would have been whistled either way, but Malone, as Jamal Crawford is saying on the broadcast, called attention to the issue. 

May 15, 2024, 3:21 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:21 pm EDT
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Minnesota gets away with an offensive foul and steals an extra point on the tech

Tough break for the Nuggets there. Rudy Gobert just committed about as egregious an uncalled offensive foul as you'll ever see, leading with the shoulder and knocking Justin Holiday over. Michael Malone was predictably furious, and he got called for a technical while arguing. That's a three-point swing on a bad non-call.

May 15, 2024, 3:17 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:17 pm EDT
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Denver in front, but Minnesota is feasting from deep

The Nuggets hold a slim 28-26 lead after one quarter, but the story strategically so far has been Aaron Gordon's foul trouble. The trickle-down effect has been Denver doubling Karl-Anthony Towns with lesser defenders, which has created a ton of clean looks from deep for the Timberwolves. Sure enough, Minnesota is 5-of-9 from deep after 12 minutes, and those 3's are keeping them in the game.

May 15, 2024, 3:11 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:11 pm EDT
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Towns working on the stationary bike

Karl-Anthony Towns initially tried to play through the pain after seemingly injuring the same knee he had surgery on two months ago, but now he's out and on the stationary bike. That's better than going back to the locker room, but it still isn't a great sign of how he feels. 

May 15, 2024, 3:06 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:06 pm EDT
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The MVP is owning the first quarter

That's 11 points and two rebounds and assists for Nikola Jokic through less than 10 minutes of play in the first quarter in Denver. Jokic accepted his third MVP award tonight before Game 5, and he's certainly playing like a three-time MVP so far in this one.

May 15, 2024, 3:04 AM
May. 14, 2024, 11:04 pm EDT
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Karl-Anthony Towns is hurt

Oh no. This is scary. Karl-Anthony Towns is down on the ground holding his knee. Towns had surgery for a torn meniscus in March. He's trying to walk it off, but he does not look right. We'll see if he can manage the pain, but if Towns is compromised, things only get harder for Minnesota.

May 15, 2024, 2:59 AM
May. 14, 2024, 10:59 pm EDT
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Denver doubling Towns

Here's the trickle-down effect of Aaron Gordon getting into quick foul-trouble: Michael Porter Jr. is nominally defending him, but the Nuggets are doubling him on the catch. Minnesota rotates the ball and gets two free-throws. It will get plenty of open 3's out of this arrangement as well. The Nuggets have to win this stretch on offense to justify the Holiday minutes, or they have to give Peyton Watson a shot on Towns.

May 15, 2024, 2:54 AM
May. 14, 2024, 10:54 pm EDT
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Two quick Aaron Gordon fouls

Aaron Gordon is in foul trouble already with two quickies. Denver can't afford to be without him for long. They've largely gone away from Peyton Watson in this series, so forward depth after Christian Braun is a problem. Justin Holiday steps in for him, and that will hep Denver's spacing, but create serious defensive issues.

May 15, 2024, 2:52 AM
May. 14, 2024, 10:52 pm EDT
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Successful challenge, but was it a worthwhile one?

The Timberwolves just won their first challenge on that 3-point foul... but was it worth it? The Nuggets got a quick layup because Denver had imminent possession, so at most, the challenge saved a single point, and now, Minnesota is down to one challenge the rest of the way. That was a big risk for a meager reward.

May 15, 2024, 2:50 AM
May. 14, 2024, 10:50 pm EDT
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A more defense-oriented game

Mike Conley's absence has been felt on both ends of the floor. The Timberwolves are operating at a shot-creation deficit without him, so it's really going to fall on Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns to generate offense tonight. Towns has done the heavy lifting early. On the other end, though, Nickeil Alexander-Walker starting for Minnesota has made life even harder for the Nuggets on offense, who have only four points through more than three minutes of play.

May 15, 2024, 2:47 AM
May. 14, 2024, 10:47 pm EDT
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Mike Conley out tonight for Wolves

Another day, another key injury in the NBA playoffs. This time it's Timberwolves veteran guard Mike Conley, who will miss Tuesday night's Game 5 with a right Achilles injury.

"It's unfortunate. It's just kind of a strain and he's not able to go today," Wolves coach Chris Finch said before the game on the Wolves radio show. "But there is a Game 6 and we feel confident he'll be ready to go then."

Conley had started all eight of Minnesota's playoff games entering Tuesday. He's averaging 11.3 points and seven assists in 31.8 minutes per game.