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NBA playoffs 2024 - Inside the 'wild' chess match between the Nuggets and Timberwolves - ESPN

Two games into the NBA's Western Conference semifinals, the Minnesota Timberwolves weren't just beating the defending champs — they were throttling them.

The Wolves' defense, ranked No. 1 in the league during the regular season, went from impenetrable in Game 1 to downright preposterous in Game 2 against the Denver Nuggets. And despite missing four-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who was away from the team for the birth of his first child, Minnesota's swarming defenders only seemed to multiply.

«I heard someone say it was like seven Timberwolves on the court,» Minnesota forward Jaden McDaniels told ESPN earlier in the series. «It really feels like that when you are playing defense [with this team].»

After winning Game 1 on the road, the Wolves harassed Nuggets guard Jamal Murray into a 1-for-10 showing, limited center Nikola Jokic to eight points, forced the three-time MVP into four turnovers and held Denver to 32.6% shooting en route to a 26-point lead by halftime of Game 2.

It wasn't just proper recognition and defensive rotations, either. There was a certain style to Minnesota's suffocating schemes.

A clip of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Wolves' rangy, 6-foot-5 guard, picking up Murray full court went viral and featured Alexander-Walker flashing an almost maniacal smile in Murray's face after absorbing a bump to the body when Murray tried to free himself at the center circle. «I was just so lost in the flow of it,» Alexander-Walker said after Game 2.

Minnesota's on-ball pressure ramped up even more when Alexander-Walker was joined by McDaniels. The duo's double-teams pestered Murray to the point where the normally steady guard had to get rid of the ball or risk a turnover.

The Wolves, two games into