The NBA defines clutch time as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, so long as that game is within five points. The clutch has brought us some of the best basketball moments in NBA history. Whether it be Michael Jordan’s shot over Bryon Russell to win the 1998 NBA Finals or Damian Lillard’s iconic shot over Paul George to send the Oklahoma City Thunder home, these shots represent the most exciting times in basketball.
Through all the theatrics of game winners, not many remember the set-up plays down the stretch that created the opportunity to hit a legendary shot. Lillard’s final shot will grab all the headlines, but many forget the Portland Trail Blazers were down 13 with six minutes to go. It wasn’t just the final shot that mattered. Ultimately, Lillard’s eight points and two assists in the final six minutes allowed the Blazers to go on the 23-6 run to tie the game with 32 seconds left. Although Lillard’s 37-foot bomb ultimately allowed him to wave George off, Lillard’s play during the final five minutes was equally important.
Anthony Edwards has yet to have his first-ever game-winning buzzer-beater, but he’s been close multiple times. His first attempt came against the Indiana Pacers in his rookie season, where his deep three barely rimmed out. Edwards came up just short again versus the New Orleans Pelicans this season when his mid-range game-winning attempt drew front iron.
Although Edwards hasn’t hit that final shot yet, he’s shown up big in the final moments multiple times. But the Wolves don’t just need the final shot from Edwards; they need him to be locked in for the final five minutes. Ant has shown glimpses of elite clutch play, and while they are promising, that’s all they are, glimpses. If he wants to become a top 10 player in the world, he has to be better, elite even, for the final five minutes of close games.
This season, Edwards has spent the 52nd most minutes in the clutch while shooting at the 69th most efficient clip (38%) by a player with at least 20 clutch-time field goal attempts. Edwards is in the middle of a third-year jump, but his next leap will have to be his production in the clutch. Stars like Jayson Tatum (46%), Luka Doncic (47%), Paul George (55%), and Kevin Durant (44%) all excel in the clutch, and their team’s success directly correlates to them.
Watching back at his clutch-time performances, you see Edwards continually displaying great late-game decision-making. However, his execution of these ideas hasn’t been amazing in the clutch, resulting in some sloppy plays down the stretch.
Edwards often goes into pick-and-roll sets with Rudy Gobert. Ant’s dribble penetration threat, alongside Gobert’s lob presence, often put the defenders in a vulnerable position.
A Rudy lob dunk or an Ant drive off of a PnR are great late-game actions that are highly efficient when pulled off correctly. Unfortunately, Edwards’ execution on lobs, specifically to Gobert, still needs work.
Besides the sloppy play, Edwards has one major flaw in his decision-making, and it occasionally will cost the Wolves a win. Ant occasionally likes to play a little hero ball. Although when successful, it changes the game, there’s often a better play to be had.
In the play below, you can tell by every player’s body language that the Wolves were looking to run a set action. Gobert is pleading with Edwards to throw the entry pass to Towns while Russell is throwing his hands up in confusion about why the play hasn’t started yet. Ultimately, they never ran the set play. Edwards would drive directly at a seven-footer and miss the finish.
Why would Ant, who has consistently shown great decision-making, do this?
On the play before, Edwards got a tough shot to fall on Lauri Markkanen. While it went in the first time, it was inefficient.
Edwards needs to learn when to be assertive and when to let the game flow. With the example above, it’s best for Edwards to let the play run rather than force a shot. But in this situation versus the Denver Nuggets, it’s so obvious Edwards should take control that Doris Burke even has time to announce it.
In a perfect world, you’d like to see Edwards pick these cues up a bit quicker. But fortunately, these are all things that Edwards can and will get better at as time goes on. As Edwards builds off his strengths, expect his execution to tighten.
It’s clear that Edwards has a special shot-making ability; he just needs to provide that in the clutch more consistently. In some instances, Ant’s clutch performances are often defined by good shot attempts. It’s just a matter of whether he makes or misses the shot. Moments like these are fun to watch when they go in. But when his shots aren’t falling, it can lose the game. Although the losses are rough, you live and die by your best player in the clutch.
It hasn’t been all bad, though. Ant also has a lot of film suggesting great poise in the clutch with his decision-making this year.
Edwards is efficient at drawing the matchup he wants. Here Ant draws Jaxson Hayes out of the paint, freeing up the restricted area. After blowing by Hayes, Ant explodes to the rack.
Similarly here, Edwards knows Jusuf Nurkic is in foul trouble and attacks the rim accordingly. Nurkic is forced to play so passively, so for a player as talented as Ant, it’s basically a wide-open lay.
It’s also worth mentioning that Edwards has been amazing when it comes to clutch time defense. When the game is close late, it seems like Ant finds an extra gear to shift into while everyone else is running out of gas.
Although Edwards has his moments, many of Ant’s late-game execution has been sloppy. But when he makes the right decision and uses his special shot-making ability to put the idea to its proper use, you finally see just how good he can be in the clutch.
Ideally, the Wolves could still have Ant’s clutch performances be a backburner problem in his third year. But due to this team’s injuries this season, the Wolves need Edwards to be great in the clutch now. With a huge 10-game stretch coming up, Ant could see some of the most important minutes of his career. It’s somewhat unclear what type of load Ant can carry. But one thing is clear, the Wolves will desperately need Edwards in the clutch.