Timberwolves

Anthony Edwards Is Here

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Edwards joined the TNT postgame coverage immediately following a 98-90 Game 7 win over the defending champion Denver Nuggets. Charles Barkley started to ask Edwards a question: “I have not been to Minneapolis in probably 20 years,” he said.

Edwards interjected, “Bring ya ass.”

It was another viral moment for Edwards. However, that is exactly what the Minnesota Timberwolves will expect from the national media, opposing fans, and the Dallas Mavericks, mainly due to Edwards’ brilliance in the postseason.

 

Game 7 may look statistically different from other Edwards heroics. He didn’t score 40 points. He didn’t have six steals and wasn’t perfect from three. Edwards simply played the right way, which is impressive for a 22-year-old on the verge of becoming an all-time superstar.

But Edwards still had the game-ending three in the fourth quarter.

After a Naz Reid put-back, the Wolves extended their lead to seven, 89-82. Jamal Murray then turned the ball over at half court due to a Mike Conley double team and steal. Conley weaved to the left wing before dumping the ball off to a sprinting Reid, who took two steps towards the rim before whirling a pass to the right corner, where Edwards stood alone.

Edwards was 1/8 from three at the time. He took a dribble, double-checked that he was behind the arc, lined the shot up, and hit nothing but net. That forced the Nuggets to call a timeout, down 92-82 with 3:07 remaining. Edwards yelled before celebrating with someone in the crowd. That 10-point lead would mark a 20-point swing early in the third quarter.

Up until that point, Edwards was 1/8 on three-point attempts and found scoring hard to come by for most of the game. Despite his struggles scoring, he put on a masterclass of making the right decisions and leading by setting the table for his teammates’ success. From early in the first quarter, Edwards was attempting to impact the game in any way he could.

The first quarter of the game started as a rock fight. Edwards scored his first points at the 8:46 mark of the quarter on a difficult pull-up jump shot that made it 4-3 Wolves. The game would plod on with a slow pace and wonderful defense by both teams, and Edwards would slowly start to figure out Denver’s defense.

Denver made a concerted effort not to allow Edwards to beat them with his scoring. They doubled him on every pick-and-roll, sent help on every touch, and had defenders lean his way to crowd the paint. Edwards faced a similar look in Game 5, the most he had ever been pressured in his career. The difference in Game 7 was that Conley was playing, drastically improving the spacing.

With the increased space, Edwards moved the ball quicker than in Game 5, as he displayed twice in the first quarter. At the 7:16 mark, Edwards swung the ball to Conley, who drilled a three to make the game to 7-5. Four minutes later, Edwards again faced the double as Reid passed out of a post-up to Edwards.

Edwards drove as Reid drifted to the corner, and Edwards passed out to Reid for three, giving the Wolves a 15-12 advantage at the 3:19 mark.

The first quarter ended with the Nuggets scoring eight straight and leading the Wolves 24-19. Edwards scored only two points, shooting just 1/5 from the field. His two assists were encouraging. However, it appeared Edwards was finding the increased pressure challenging to manage, settling for three three-point shots.

The Wolves started losing control of the game four minutes into the second quarter when Denver grew its lead to 12, 32-20. Chris Finch subbed Edwards out and turned to Kyle Anderson off the bench to try and kickstart an offense that scored only one point in the past 5:05 of gameplay. Anderson and the Wolves ultimately cut the lead to six before the Nuggets extended the lead back to eleven. Finch subbed Edwards in, but that didn’t stop Denver from building on their lead.

Ultimately, the Nuggets extended the lead to 15 going into halftime, 53-38. Edwards only had four points at the half, going 1/7 from the field. Edwards’ three assists were encouraging, but he was still trying to decipher Denver’s coverage on him. In the postgame interview, Edwards said that Finch kept it simple, telling him he had to make quicker decisions.

“He wasn’t really mad today,” said Edwards. “It was more like, ‘I know we going to win this game, we’ve just got to do this to win the game. He wasn’t really mad. It was just like his clips on the screen were, ‘This is what we’ve got to do to win this game. And if we do it, we’ll win. And if we don’t, we’ll lose.’ And we did that.”

The third quarter started in potentially the worst possible way. The Nuggets scored five-straight points to increase their lead to 20. At this point, the Wolves would need a historic comeback. In Game 7, no team had ever come back from a 15-point halftime deficit, let alone a 20-point deficit. Minnesota would start to chip away. Rudy Gobert‘s dunk, followed by a Jaden McDaniels three off an Edwards assist, chipped away at Denver’s lead and brought it back to 15, 58-43.

Edwards ramped up his intensity. He started to drive to the basket and make quick decisions after pick-and-rolls, which resulted in a beautiful layup. However, his shooting woes continued; he missed three shots before the make. Edwards’ attacking nature opened up more space for his teammates.

At the 6:40 mark, Edwards took the ball up after a Murray miss and burst into the lane, drawing a triple team from the Nuggets. Edwards rose toward the rim before flipping the ball to McDaniels, who knocked down a corner three. The three would cut the lead to nine, 59-50.

 

Minutes later, Karl-Anthony Towns stole the ball from Nikola Jokic, and Edwards flew down the floor for a dunk, forcing the Nuggets to call a timeout. That dunk cut the lead to four, 61-57, at the 3:05 mark. The Nuggets only had eight points up until this point in the quarter.

 

Two-and-a-half minutes later, Edwards stripped Murray and flew down the floor again for a transition dunk. On the next Wolves possession,  Edwards only had one defender guarding him as the clock ticked away in the third quarter. Aaron Gordon accepted the challenge as Edwards danced before stepping to the side, hitting a three-point shot with just over one second left on the clock.

That would be Edwards’ first three of the night.

Jokic missed the halfcourt heave, and the Wolves were down just one point, 67-66, and had all of the momentum.

The Wolves would take the lead just 12 seconds into the fourth when Conley fed Gobert for a layup. Minnesota would never trail again after this shot, and it would be the first lead they had since the 1:42 mark in the first quarter.

The fourth quarter was back and forth, with the Wolves and Nuggets matching basket for basket. Minnesota’s game plan appeared simple: Allow Edwards to draw the double, then attack Denver inside. The Nuggets gave the ball to Jokic and let him run the entire offense. Both strategies worked to perfection. Gobert and Reid wore down Denver’s interior defense, and Jokic played magnificently on the other end.

At the 4:49 mark, Murray hit a jumper off of a Jokic assist, and the Nuggets trailed by three, 85-82. Reid missed a three on the following possession, and Gobert’s rebound ended up in Edwards’ hands. He missed the layup, and Reid corraled the rebound and drew a foul. With the lead back to five, Reid blocked Jokic on the defensive end. Edwards lined up a three and missed. A steamrolling Reid snagged the rebound and tipped it in to increase Minnesota’s lead to seven.

That brings us to where we started. Murray took the pass and trapped at halfcourt. Conley dribbled to the wing, Naz got the pass, and Edwards drilled the shot to bring the lead to ten. In the final three minutes, it was never in doubt. Edwards even waved to the crowd as the outcome became more certain.

Edwards didn’t have the game people expected. He didn’t score 60; he shot 6/24 for just 16 points. But he had eight second-half rebounds. He also made the game-sealing three. Most importantly, Edwards faced some of the most aggressive double teams and hedging on defense of his career and finished with seven assists to just one turnover. Edwards was +11 in an eight-point win.

Sometimes superstars have bad games, but how they respond often determines who wins the game. At just 22, Edwards responded with poise. He trusted his teammates, put pressure on the defense, and ultimately led his team to victory in Game 7 against the defending champions and a three-time MVP.

“For me, being here nine years, I’ve seen everything and –” Edwards interjects, “Man f*** them nine years.” Towns attempts to keep his composure as Edwards says, “This year!”

Edwards is right: This year could be the year. The Wolves need eight more wins. They will fly home to face Dallas in the Conference Finals, something they haven’t done in 20 years.

The Timberwolves are back, and everyone will have to bring they ass to Minneapolis.

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