Anthony Edwards is facing the moment – it may not be enough against the champions


MINNEAPOLIS – It's a rite of passage, an inevitable reality for all the greats who come through the Association.

Anthony Edwards recognized that a moment was needed and made it happen. He didn't back down from it, he stared down the defending champions and delivered a massive blow that could have put lesser teams behind collectively.

Edwards is the NBA's newest darling and rightfully so, he has and will continue to earn praise in every way. Edwards was a one-man tour de force in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The 22-year-old understood the series was winnable on Sunday night, even if he didn't say it out loud.

In came Edwards, but on the other side he met a proud champion who has found his groove and rhythm even in the most adverse circumstances. One day, Edwards will be where the Denver Nuggets are today, facing a charismatic new Jack who has nothing to lose — and he'll remember the time he scored 44 in the most efficient way possible. He would remember that at that moment not everyone was on his side.

Edwards has met his nemesis in the Nuggets, who, for the time being, stands in his way. The way the Detroit Pistons stood in Michael Jordan's way, preventing his coronation. The way the Boston Celtics initially stood in the way of LeBron James.

The Nuggets evened the Western Conference semifinal series at two games apiece with a 115-107 victory Sunday in front of another wild crowd at Target Center. The series shifts back to Denver on Tuesday where the Timberwolves made a definite statement with two wins a week ago.

But oh, what a difference a week makes.

Edwards has done nothing to dim his star, dropping 40 points for the second time this series and averaging 33.2 points over four games, including 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals per game. He attacked the Nuggets at every turn, driving to the basket, absorbing contact in an increasingly physical series, but also standing upright, hitting triples and learning more and more what impact he could make in high-stakes basketball.

Edwards wasn't just good, he was fantastic. He was agile in his movements, tiptoeing down the street like the late Gregory Hines. If the Nuggets have figured out everyone else in this series, they still haven't found any answers for this guy.

“He came out with a very aggressive mentality and he kept it up throughout the game, even if his teammates weren't doing anything,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “But there were a lot of other plays to be made that could have complemented that that we didn't make. And, you know, these are things we have to try to do and these are things we've been doing all throughout the playoffs.

Perhaps tiring him out is the best chance the Nuggets have to stop him. Edwards, who spent time like a shutdown cornerback on every Nuggets scorer — even on Nikola Jokic in the fourth quarter — was spent early in the final 12.

After playing 37 of the first 39 minutes, he signaled a timeout to compose himself. As he sat on the bench, Nuggets reserve Christian Braun made a 3 to put his team ahead by 13. In the two minutes and 40 seconds Edwards was on the bench, the Timberwolves trailed by 13 points (Edwards was plus-5 on the night).

“I have to figure it out. I'm young,” Edwards said, smiling. “So I feel like I can look tired and still be effective out there. But I was definitely a little tired, a little gassed. But I'll be fine.”

He doesn't have to be the next Michael, or Kobe Bryant, or anyone else in that lineage. In fact, he is acting as if he is on top of that – taking the Game 3 debacle on its head, snatching up accountability and vowing to do better in Game 4.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - MAY 12: Anthony Edwards #5 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in game four of the Western Conference Second Round playoffs at Target Center on May 12, 2024 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Note to User: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading or using this photograph, User is agreeing to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by David Birding/Getty Images)MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - MAY 12: Anthony Edwards #5 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in game four of the Western Conference Second Round playoffs at Target Center on May 12, 2024 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Note to User: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading or using this photograph, User is agreeing to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by David Birding/Getty Images)

Anthony Edwards scored 44 points on Sunday night, but it wasn't enough. (Photo by David Birding/Getty Images)

What they learned is that there is no margin for error when playing at their peak against a championship team, because there is no margin for error. You can't sleep on inbound passes, or pocket passes – or the Nuggets will get pounced on because their concentration is at peak level.

Edwards' turnover at the end of the first half led to a Michael Porter Jr. runout with 1.6 seconds remaining, and then Jamal Murray intercepted an inbounds pass on the other side of halfcourt before throwing up a 50-footer at the buzzer – seven. turned into. The Nuggets led by a 15-point spread at halftime with 20 seconds remaining.

“This is a great team. They're not going to beat themselves,” Finch said. “It's inexcusable, you know, a stretch like that where they have eight points in seven seconds or something like that, whatever to close the quarter.”

The Timberwolves are learning that there are many levels to it, and as Edwards continues to move forward, the onus will be on the front office to surround him with teammates who will get along with him this time – because he saw a team that Knows itself better than any team that survived the playoffs, there was calmness rather than panic.

Jokic, whom Edwards calls “the best player in the world” without hesitation, again put his stamp on the series as the Nuggets picked up some smelling salts on their flight to Minnesota a few days earlier.

Jokic fouled Rudy Gobert, who was awarded his fourth Defensive Player of the Year trophy, just before tip-off, and whom the Timberwolves had put in front of him all night. He scored 35 with 7 assists and 7 rebounds, many of those passes finding the capable hands of Aaron Gordon, who hit his first 11 shots en route to a 27-point, 6-assist, 7-rebound performance.

Gordon has sacrificed and dedicated himself to winning, making himself the perfect running back for Jokic – the ultimate selfless player in today's game. As Gordon was asked about being unselfish, Jokic walked into the cramped interview room and Gordon smiled.

“Great transition, you saw the big man step into the room,” Gordon said. “That's where I learned to be unselfish, I learned that from him. The best basketball player in the world, three-time MVP, and he's the most selfless, humble guy. If the three-time MVP can do it, I can do it too.”

Gordon could do more, and would be tasked to do more in other situations, but he seems happy in his role. The same goes for Murray, who is quickly finding his way, and the Nuggets got timely contributions from Justin Holiday and Bron, who combined to score 22 off the bench.

Edwards doesn't yet have someone who can fill a role like Gordon's, or he hasn't yet developed into a player who can meet all of his needs. After all, Edwards is still developing himself.

Karl-Anthony Towns had his worst game at the worst time, missing his first seven shots en route to a 5-of-18 night, making 13 when he came into the night averaging 20.3 in the series. There was added weight, not just the stakes, but the fact that it was Mother's Day. Towns lost his mother, Jacqueline, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Things weren't falling into place today. I take responsibility for it,” Towns said. “I work, so I feel good about the work I do. It's unfortunate on Mother's Day, I have that kind of shooting performance. That's the way the game works. Sometimes it's not a fun game Is.”

Who knows whether Towns, for all his talents and gifts as a stretch-shooting veteran, is the perfect complement to Edwards. Edwards, true to his form, isn't believing it.

“I mean he's a superstar. You get paid to put the ball in the rim, Edwards said. “I told him you never stop shooting the ball, I don't care. To win, we need your score. I'm just happy he was aggressive all night. Like it's a win for us tonight.

It's noble of Edwards to offer grace in the moment, but no such emotion was offered in the waning seconds as he watched Murray clap slightly in satisfaction. Edwards shouted back, undeterred by losing two home games over the weekend.

“I just told his ass, we like him, keep talking,” Edwards said. “OK I like it. He won't say anything in response, but I'm sure he heard me, he heard me.”

They saw him, they realized they couldn't stop him — and maybe in this series, they won't have to.


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