The Denver Nuggets, fueled by a Nikola Jokic triple-double, beat Minnesota 120-111 on Friday to take a 3-0 stranglehold on their NBA Western Conference playoff series as the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks notched big home wins.
The Knicks had Madison Square Garden rocking with a dominant 99-79 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers that put New York up 2-1.
The Hawks clawed back to 2-1 after dropping the first two games against the Celtics in Boston with a 130-122 triumph.
Atlanta crucially avoided falling into a 3-0 hole — a deficit no NBA team has ever recovered from to win a best-of-seven series.
And that’s exactly where Western Conference top seeds Denver have the Timberwolves after two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic’s seventh career playoff triple-double.
Jokic scored 20 points with 11 rebounds and 12 assists, and when he was limited by foul trouble in the third quarter his teammates kept the pressure on.
Michael Porter Jr scored 25 points to lead six Nuggets players in double figures and Denver’s reserves out-scored the Timberwolves bench 29-10.
They kept the Timberwolves at bay despite a sparkling 36 points from Anthony Edwards, whose three-pointer early in the third pulled Minnesota within three points.
They were down by five with less than five minutes remaining, but couldn’t break through.
Jokic, who led the league with 29 triple-doubles in the regular season, said he knows they’ll be even more determined on Sunday to prevent a sweep on their home floor.
“We know they’re going to go even more aggressive in two days,” Jokic said. “So we just need to keep our composure and we know what to expect.”
In New York, Jalen Brunson scored 21 points and RJ Barrett added 19 for the Knicks, who rebounded from a humbling game two defeat in Cleveland.
The Knicks’ suffocating defense contributed to a dismal night for Cleveland’s Darius Garland, who missed 17 of his 21 shot attempts on the way to 10 points.
Donovan Mitchell scored 22 to lead the Cavs, who became the first team this season to be held under 80 points in an NBA game.
To top it off, Garland — who scored 32 points in the Cavs’ win on Tuesday — needed treatment on his left ankle in the second half after stepping on a courtside photographer’s foot.
The game was the first playoff contest at Madison Square Garden in two years and the “chaos” that New York native and Cavs star Mitchell predicted materialized.
Both teams made sloppy starts in the raucous atmosphere, but the Knicks steadied to take a 13-point halftime lead that they pushed to as many as 27.
“This was great,” said Brunson, but he warned that the Cavs would punch back in game four on Sunday.
“You want to carry it over, but at the same time we’ve got to be focused, we’ve got to be ready to go.”
In Atlanta, Trae Young scored 32 points and Dejounte Murray added 25 as the hot-shooting Hawks clawed back into their series against the Celtics.
Young shook off two sub-par performances with a stellar display, connecting on 12 of 22 shots from the field with six rebounds and nine assists.
“Our whole team was making plays all night and it was up to me to go make the right one,” Young said. “It’s not only to score, sometimes it’s to get everybody involved.”
He also produced a pair of blocks as the Hawks out-hustled the second-seeded Celtics — who fell to Golden State in the NBA Finals last year.
A matter of will
Jayson Tatum scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Boston. Marcus Smart added 24 and Jaylen Brown had 15 for the Celtics, who drained 21 three-pointers but were out-rebounded 48-29.
Smart said there was no secret to the Hawks’ advantage on the boards, which led to their 23-9 edge in second-chance points.
“It’s just a matter of will,” Smart said, “and they wanted it more tonight.”
Tatum still had a chance to tie it with 58.1 seconds left but his three-point attempt bounced off the rim and the Hawks pulled away.
“I’ve got to play better,” said a dejected Tatum, who said he made too many untimely turnovers and poor decisions. “This one tonight is on me.”
Atlanta will try to level the series when they host game four on Sunday.
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