There are players who like the bright lights.
There are players who love the bright lights.
And then there are players who the lights simply aren’t bright enough for.
Anthony Edwards, at just 20 years old, is already one of those players. The most effervescent young superstar in the game dropped a cool, career-high 49 points on the San Antonio Spurs tonight, all while simultaneously carrying that look in his eyes and wearing a beaming smile.
The volume of Edwards’ game resonated throughout the arena like a preacher spreading the good word to a congregation eager to consume it. Every time the sophomore sensation touched the ball, the crowd inched the edge of their seats, ready to explode at a moment’s notice.
Edwards put the full package on display tonight, which is all enabled by terrifying his athleticism is when he puts the ball on the deck. He first uses an other-worldly first step to get perimeter defenders on their heels before using his plus strength — an attribute so rare for a 2-guard his age — to power through them and finish strong at the rim.
Anthony Edwards powerful drive + finish, impressive strength on display pic.twitter.com/fdLfkIztz1— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 8, 2022
Then, once defenders are focused on the drive, he deploys a deadly step-back jumper that defenders have no chance at effectively stopping on a consistent basis. Perhaps what is most underrated about Edwards’ shooting is the way he sets it up. He jabs at defenders with a live dribble and switches the cadence at which he attacks them, which keeps them guessing first at whether he will shoot or drive, and then at when he will pull the trigger.
Anthony Edwards isolation step-back 3 pic.twitter.com/JgGdnPOjJC— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 8, 2022
The beautiful thing about Edwards’ game is that his breathtaking athleticism doesn’t solely benefit his scoring ability, but rather creates a foundation for a generational blend of playmaking and on-ball defense to complement league-leading scoring potential.
Edwards regularly makes extremely difficult passes look routine. He did just that again tonight en route to tallying eight assists, the second-most the scintillating superstar-in-the-making has dished out in a game in his young career.
Anthony Edwards impressive left-handed pass to Jaylen Nowell in the opposite corner for 3 pic.twitter.com/gw25gGtq99— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 8, 2022
Between his scoring and playing created an impressive 71 points tonight, a career-high for him.
Minnesota enjoyed a great performance out of Edwards on the defensive end as well. His athleticism enables advanced screen navigation and lateral movement, while his strength can prevent bigger wings from going through him after they can’t get around him.
“He’s one of the few guys in this locker room that can really move them laterally,” three-time All-Defensive Team member Patrick Beverley said postgame. “If he can consistently do that on the defensive end, you’re talking about a two-way player. A lot of growth. ... He’s gotten much better getting into the ball and being engaged.”
This type of two-way dominance is something the Timberwolves coaching staff needs more of out of their young star, especially now that he is fully healthy after dealing with a nagging knee injury for two months.
“The coaching staff talked to him about trying to be a little bit more dominant when you can be dominant,” Wolves head coach Chris Finch said after the game.
Minnesota lead assistant Micah Nori led the charge in lighting that fire in Edwards.
“Me and Micah had a long talk yesterday about dominating, being a leader, coming out and dominate everything that I’m doing,” Edwards said tonight. “What he said to me definitely stuck to me.”
Asked when that gives him the confidence to do it more, Edwards replied quickly with a smile, cutting off the question: “Hell yeah.”
Beyond Edwards’ much-needed big night, the Wolves got much-needed performances from a supporting cast that Finch and the team will need to be consistent in order to experience postseason success.
Jaden McDaniels made a couple of big in-rhythm, step-back triples in the second quarter to help bring the Wolves back in front after the Spurs threw a big punch to take the lead at the end of the first quarter. He continued to move well adding in a couple of nice drives that led to buckets inside both in transition and out of the corner, where he can be a lethal weapon attacking off the drive.
Coming out of the half like a cannon ball launching at the speed of sound, Towns generated a personal 8-0 run to give the Wolves a 15-point lead before the Spurs found the energy to throw some haymakers back.
Wings Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson both got it going to keep the Spurs in the game, but did so in different ways. The smooth shooting Vassell found the touch from the right corner on a few 3s, while Johnson — a 2021 Tokyo Olympic gold medalist — got into the body of Taurean Prince to score inside and get to the foul line.
Malik Beasley joined the fun with a trio of massive triples that kept San Antonio at bay as part of a clutch night for a shooter the Wolves desperately need to find the bottom of the net over the course of the next week.
As if Beasley’s 3s weren’t enough to hold off a pesky road team fighting for playoff position, Edwards made sure to throw a huge dunk down over the top of Apple Valley’s Tre Jones for good measure.
The Spurs responded by getting physical with Towns, who took up his frustration with the officials and earned himself his 15th technical of the season, one shy of the threshold that lands him a one-game suspension. Consequently, Finch turned to Edwards to turn the tide, who immediately answered the call with a 3 on his first possession. It was just that kind of night for Edwards, who delivered 18 additional points following that clutch 3 with 15 minutes left to play.
Like any Gregg Popovich coached team would, Pop’s team made a run in the midst of Edwards’ second-half scoring outburst to get the game back to single digits early in the fourth quarter.
Thankfully for Wolves fans, Finch has Jordan McLaughlin on speed dial and the fan favorite always answers on the first ring. McLaughlin drained the two biggest shots of the night on consecutive possessions to send a nine-point lead back up to 15.
The former USC standout put the cherry on top with a pair of free throws on the next trip down. It should come as no surprise that those eight straight points for the Wolves were all the points he scored in the game; he saves his best for when the team needs him the most.
“J-Mac has done that all year,” Towns said postgame. “It’s always Jaylen Nowell and J-Mac hitting the shot that we need. They’ve done that all year. Every time we’ve asked them to give us clutch, meaningful minutes, they’ve done an amazing job at it every single time. It just shows how professional they are, how professional our bench is and ready for the moment regardless of what it is.”
If Minnesota can get elite top end performances from the likes of Edwards and Towns while getting consistent bench play, they can absolutely win a first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
That is, however, only possible if they can get past the Los Angeles Clippers, who are getting healthy at the right time, and have beaten the Wolves three times this season. Paul George and Norman Powell have returned from extended absences and Kawhi Leonard is waiting in the wings for a postseason return.
Anthony Edwards sent a message to Los Angeles tonight that if they want to get through the play-in, they have to go through him to do it.
“I feel like we got everything we need. We’re gonna make a real good run in the playoffs. They need to be ready for us,” Edwards said. “We’re comin’.”
Next up for the Wolves is a 7:30 PM Sunday night showdown with the Chicago Bulls in the regular season finale at Target Center. That will be the final tune-up before Minnesota hosts the Clippers on Tuesday night at 8:30 PM on TNT in the 7/8 seed play-in game.