Ant Was A Boxer Without A Cut Man In Game 4

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Edwards knew the Denver Nuggets wouldn’t give up on their second-round series after the Minnesota Timberwolves took Games 1 and 2 on the road. “That’s the defending champs over there,” Edwards said after Game 2. “They’re not gonna come out and play like that again. We gotta be ready to take their punch.”

After Game 2, Edwards said that Finch tells the team that they have to be ready to take Denver’s punch. However, Edwards counters by saying that the Nuggets must also prepare for Minnesota’s jab. “S—, they not the only one punchin’ in the fight,” he said. “They gotta be ready to take our punch, and we will be ready to take their punch.”

The Timberwolves were not ready for Denver’s punch when the series moved to Minneapolis, and Edwards took the blame for Minnesota’s Game 3 loss. He said he didn’t come out with enough energy after the three-day layoff and had 19 points in the 117-90 loss. “They just whooped our a–, that’s all it was. It ain’t no difference,” he said. “It’s all good. I wasn’t aggressive. I blame myself. We’ll be ready Sunday.”

Minnesota wasn’t ready on Sunday, either. That isn’t to say that Edwards has false bravado, though. He’s taken the blame when he struggled in the regular season, and he’s been honest in assessing team failures. Edwards was also true to his word in Game 4. He finished with 44 points in 45 minutes, shooting 16 for 25 from the floor. However, his teammates didn’t give him enough help.

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 13 points on 5-18 shooting. Jaden McDaniels finished with 11 points and was minus-4 after being plus-40 in the first two games. Rudy Gobert had five fouls and 11 points. Kyle Anderson had 0 points and was minus-18 in six minutes. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had two points and was minus-20 in 24 minutes off the bench. Mike Conley (15 points, 3 of 7 from three) and Naz Reid (11 points, 5 of 6 from the floor) pitched in, but it wasn’t enough.

Still, Edwards wasn’t concerned about returning to Denver tied 2-2.

“This is a series,” said Edwards, shrugging off the notion that he’d lose sleep over Game 4. “We won two games, but we didn’t think it was going to be easy. I said it after Game 2, they’re not going to lay down. They’re going to punch, and we’re going to punch back. They beat us up tonight. The last two nights, they beat us up in the fight. That’s okay. We’re going to be all right.”

Had Edwards entered this world 30 years earlier, he may have been a boxer. During his rookie year, he famously told Marney Gellner that he could dominate any sport. It’s not hard to believe that the 6’4”, 225 lbs. Edwards, who has a 6’9” wingspan, would master the sweet science. He certainly has the moxie to match Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard.

The Wolves must adapt Edwards’ mindset to win this series. Nobody would be surprised if an oracle had told them the series would be 2-2 heading back to Denver. The surprise is that nobody has won at home, given that the Timberwolves and Nuggets have loud, passionate fans. The question for Minnesota heading into Game 5 is if they’re ready to go the distance with the champs.

Edwards is up for the fight. He’s more inclined to blame himself than his teammates for games that the Timberwolves lose, but he could have used more help in this one. Nikola Jokic (35), Aaron Gordon (27), and Jamal Murray (19) broke through against Minnesota’s defense.

The Wolves led 22-15 with 4:31 to go in the first quarter but only made one basket after that and lost the first quarter 29-24. With Towns struggling offensively, Minnesota deployed Conley, Alexander-Walker, McDaniels, Anderson, and Reid to start the second quarter. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Timberwolves did not use that combination during the regular season.

Denver increased its lead from five to 15 points in 2:21 of game time. Jokic wasn’t on the floor, and Murray didn’t make a shot.

But nothing compares to Minnesota’s meltdown at the end of the second quarter. Edwards hit a three to make it 56-49 with 48.1 to go in the half. However, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a three with 20.0 seconds left in the second. On the next possession, Jokic stole the ball from Edwards when he drove into traffic and hit Michael Porter Jr. on a long pass for a dunk.

Alexander-Walker inbounded the ball after Porter’s dunk with 2.2 seconds left, threw a bad pass that Murray picked off, and hit a 55-foot three in front of Kevin Harlan to make it 64-49. In 50 seconds, the Nuggets increased their lead from seven points to 15. “The [end of the] second quarter hurt us,” Edwards said. “It started off with me, stupid turnover.”

Edwards is taking accountability, but he took over in Game 4 and needed help. Finch could have exerted more control at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Towns needs to provide secondary scoring. Role players like Reid, McDaniels, and Alexander-Walker must chip in offensively. Anderson can’t be minus-18 in six minutes. Edwards is ready for this fight but needs the people in his corner to step up to take down the champs.

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