The Denver Nuggets are the defending champs for a reason.

With star PG Jamal Murray hampered by a calf injury, facing a 2-0 hole and needing two wins on the road in front of a deafening Minnesota crowd, the Nuggets provided their championship mettle and tied the series at two.

On Sunday, Denver once again relied on the stellar performances of its key players, Nikola Jokic, Murray and Aaron Gordon. They stepped up to the challenge and carried the team to victory, reclaiming home-court advantage.

Jokic and Gordon combined to shoot 7-9 in the first quarter as the Nuggets finished the opening 12 minutes leading 29-24. Usually, the three-time MVP provides quieter second quarters as he sits to start the frame. However, with his team down 2-1, he dominated off the bench and put up eight points and three assists in just nine minutes to ensure Denver went into halftime up 15.

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Minnesota battled back in the third quarter, led by Anthony Edwards. Arguably the best player of the playoffs so far, Edwards dazzled after the break, scoring 16 points in the third on 6-8 shooting. He put on his athleticism, shot-making ability and never-say-die attitude for the world to see as he singlehandedly tried to pull the Timberwolves back into the contest. Unfortunately, he did not receive much help from the rest of his teammates as Karl-Anthony Towns dried up and shot 5-18 on the night. Edwards finished 5-8 from behind the arc, but the rest of the Timberwolves combined for a disappointing 6-20 effort from long range, with only Mike Conley splashing more than one triple.

Minnesota cut the lead to single digits to start the fourth, but the lack of a balanced or consistent offensive attack eventually did Minnesota in. The Nuggets, led by Jokic, won the assist battle 29-21 and found open shots all night against the statistically best defense in the NBA. Gordon finished 11-12 and knocked down 27 points. Along with his prolific passing, the Serbian scored 16 points in the final frame and lifted Denver to a 115-107 win.

Postgame, Edwards felt that the Nuggets “gained no momentum” and shared that he and Murray exchanged pleasantries at half-court with time expiring. The Timberwolves’ defense keeps them in every game, and their rip-your-heart-out mentality can break even the strongest sides. But, as the series progresses, Denver continues to prove why they were the odds-on favorite to win the title for most of the year.

Jokic has begun to put his fingerprints all over the series after being a non-factor in the opening two games. To make matters worse, Minnesota needs to win another game at 5,280 feet if they want to advance after stealing two on the road earlier in the week. Denver boasted a 33-8 record at the Ball Center during the regular season, and veteran teams do not usually lose three in a row at home.

After a sleepy start to the series, the champs are here.

They just put the rest of the league on notice.

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