“I’m having the most fun I ever had playing basketball.”
Anthony Edwards couldn’t hide his beaming smile in the locker room after his Minnesota Timberwolves set a franchise scoring record with 150 points in a 150-126 dismantling of a sputtering Chicago Bulls team.
The 2020 No. 1 overall pick put together his most complete performance of the season in front of a home crowd eager to explode in praise for a undermanned, yet undeterred Timberwolves squad finding its rhythm. Edwards scored a season-high 37 points on 13/25 shooting (4/11 from 3, 7/7 on free throws), dropped a career-best 11 assists, grabbed seven rebounds, corralled two steals and threw down a dunk most NBA players can only dream of pulling off in a game.
Anthony Edwards turned in his best game of the year by far tonight:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) December 19, 2022
✅ 37 points
✅ 9/14 2PT | 4/11 3PT | 7/7 FT
✅ Career-high 11 assists
✅ 7 rebounds
✅ 2 steals
✅ +15 in 38 minutes
✅ Windmill dunkpic.twitter.com/hTIZdaJ8og
Go back and watch that again. He dunked it on the way up.
“That was a 10,” Wolves forward Nate Knight said postgame. “When the ball hits the floor before the player does, that’s how you know you dunked it pretty hard. So we’ve been dying to see Ant get out like that. It was really nice to see that.”
Edwards had a blast on Sunday night, but it wasn’t just because of his incredible performance. So, what went into all that fun he had?
“Seeing my teammates shine — Nate, Big Luka, Jaden dunking on people, Austin hitting treys, just everybody shining,” Edwards told Canis Hoopus in the locker room.
Even though the Wolves’ young star’s monstrous night took center, the team put together perhaps its most collective effort so far this season.
Naz Reid set the tone early in the first quarter, scoring the Timberwolves’ first 10 points in a showcase of all of his key skills. From attacking the rim off the roll to hitting open 3s, Reid made his presence felt against a reeling Bulls defense that lacks any semblance of rim protection.
“Naz is a great example of staying ready. He’s played every role from the third 5 to the fourth 4 to starter, to a couple DNPs at times. He’s just stayed ready,” Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch said postgame. “We have great flexibility in our roster. We felt we had that, even throughout times when we had the more traditional big lineup. We still had flexibility. Just being able to get all those guys opportunity.”
That flexibility proved to be critical.
Finch went small midway through the first, inserting Jaylen Nowell for Kyle Anderson to spread out the Bulls starting five — which has a traditional big in Nikola Vucevic — before they went to their small-ball 5 bench crew. His team responded with a 10-0 run to take a 27-20 lead. But then, when Chicago took advantage of a lineup with Luka Garza in the game by way of a 14-5 run to end the quarter with leading 34-32, Finch pivoted again.
Not too many players in the league playing as well within themselves as D'Angelo Russell is right now.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) December 19, 2022
Professional scorer on an absolute heater so far to start this one: 17 points thanks to 5/6 shooting from 3, and has 3 AST to 0 TOs.
Reid re-entered the game to start the quarter and set a flurry of rock solid screens to help get D’Angelo Russell rolling. Russell bombed away from deep, connecting on four shots (three 3s) in the first three minutes of the quarter, en route to shooting 6/7 from deep in the first half.
“DLo’s a great shooter, man. I think you guys know, he’s great with catching and shooting the ball or shooting it off the dribble,” Edwards explained postgame. “So I just tell him, like ‘Bruh, let me just bring it up and initiate the offense, just be right there, catch and shoot, because you know they gonna help.’ And he been killing, man. So it’s dope.”
Then, Finch had to pivot again. Reid was shaken up at the 8:49 mark of the quarter, exiting with what the team called “trapezoid tightness.” He did not return and I’d be surprised if he plays tonight.
Enter Nate Knight.
The hyper-athletic, fluid and strong forward put his imprint on the game from the very start. He used his strength against a very small, thin Bulls small ball 5 front-court to score on his first two possessions, before unleashing his wrath on the rim.
CLEAR THE LANE FOR NATE KNIGHTpic.twitter.com/DHzT1lTyYw— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) December 19, 2022
The next four possessions all included a Russell/Knight pick-and-roll. Russell wanted to force the Bulls to prove they could stop the Wolves’ PnR battery, and they couldn’t. Knight scored three points off free throws, then detonated again for a monster dunk.
The explosion confirmed the pair have legitimate chemistry, which makes sense considering Knight plays very similarly to Reid, whom Russell thrives with on the floor. Knight is quick off the screen, rolls hard, and can create off the short roll as a passer.
“I just know his game. He’s one of the first ones in the gym every day, probably one of the last ones to leave every day. So, for him, I’m around the facility, I see the work, I see what type of game he brings to the game,” Russell told reporters in the locker room. “Recently I was playing in stay in shape league and he was playing with confidence. I seen it, and you don’t know it until you play in the league and you hear it, so I got to witness it front row, and he came out and he showed that.”
It’s a huge luxury for the Wolves to have so much depth at the center spot. Despite Reid, Knight and Garza, all fighting for minutes, they don’t feel like they’re competing against each other.
“It’s just classic iron sharpens iron. Naz and Luka, both tremendous basketball players, as you all know,” Knight said. “Naz is one of my best friends. I’ve known him for a very long time. We’ve gotten extremely close in my two years here in Minnesota. And like, it’s a lot easier than you would think, you know, being in the same position. We have the same agent. Just that relationship that me and him have been able to build, you know, is something I can’t really encapsulate in a couple of words. It’s just, it’s amazing.”
Knight finished with 16 points in a big showing for him, which brought flashbacks of the team’s big win over the Boston Celtics last year around this time, when Knight put up 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. That night served as an inflection point last season, after which the team went 30-19 following a 16-18 start. Knight said Sunday night felt similar to that win a year ago.
“I’ll just go back to camaraderie. We all believe in each other. We all know what we’re all capable of, and we all just want to see the best for each other. And even when guys are down, the expectation stays exactly the same. That’s win basketball games by any means necessary.”
As a result of that attitude — and the Russell/Knight combo — Minnesota scored 39 points on 71% shooting and dropped eight assists in the second quarter. Even with a heroic offensive output, the Wolves were unable to build a strong lead entering the break (71-65); Minnesota allowed 31 points on 58% shooting as a result of their worst off-ball defensive output of the season.
But on the other side of halftime, their historically efficient offense effectively made their defense irrelevant.
After a dominant first half in PnR, Russell saw the Bulls’ adjustment into a high wall scheme and picked it apart.
“When you are that aggressive, it forces them to rotate and pick their poison. ... You come off the pick and roll, they trap it, alright, get off of it and now we play 4 on 3 on the back side, it makes it that much easier to see that same rotation all game,” Russell told Canis Hoopus postgame. “You’ve got Ant taking off the way he did, then you got Naz popping to start the game and they don’t know how to guard it. It just causes confusion and it’s that much easier for us offensively.”
The Bulls chose to focus their defensive efforts on Russell, which create an opportunity for Edwards to get aggressive in the third quarter. You could see it on the first possession of the second half.
From there, Edwards simply grabbed ahold of the game. He bullied Chicago defenders on the drive, exploded in transition for impressive finishes, and scored at all three levels of the defense en route to scoring 19 points in the frame, capped off by a ridiculous 3-pointer at the horn.
Even though Edwards scored only nine points on 3/10 shooting in the first half, he didn’t force anything. Russell said Edwards was “easing his way into the game” and that Edwards was “looking forward to that matchup” with DeMar DeRozan.
That’s a sign of Ant’s maturity. He doesn’t need to hunt points all the time. Edwards is beginning to understand he can impact the game as a rebounder and playmaker (had four boards and four dimes in the first half), as well as a defender.
Yes, Edwards scored 28 points in the second half on 10/15 shooting. But his playmaking is what really popped, considering we haven’t seen him consistently make high-level reads throughout the course of a game. Ant dropped seven dimes in the second half alone. While some of those were simple reads, he also threw insane passes like this one:
When defenses show two on him like they did on that play, he has no problem getting off of it.
“Because when you on the ball every play, you get to see everything. A while back, I’m in the corner, I come off, I’m just thinking, like, shoot,” Edwards joked. “But now I’m on the ball every time, so I get to see everything. So it’s pretty dope. It’s actually fun, like I’m having the most fun I ever had playing basketball.”
That type of ball movement exemplified the team’s exquisite passing in the third period. Minnesota assisted on 14 of its 17 made field goals in the quarter and shot a ridiculous 77% from the floor while turning it over just twice. It also spurred a season-best 23 made 3s on 53.5% shooting.
“I thought our spacing was outstanding. It opened up a lot of interior opportunities for us, whether we’re rolling or cutting or early on when we first started to get going and it was driving,” Finch told Canis Hoopus postgame. “Ant did a really good job of driving to the hoop. So yeah, we want to go there first. We’re trying to get to the rim.”
When Edwards is able to collapse the defense, it creates those cutting lanes that Jaden McDaniels and Austin Rivers are able to capitalize on. McDaniels and Rivers combined for 17 points in the second half, with eight of them coming as a direct result of cuts to the rim and the flow in the offense.
“Everybody was touching the ball. Everybody was happy. You know, this is a team sport. So being able to get everyone involved, everyone some touches, some looks, it’s a great feeling for real,” Knight added. “It was just a lot of fun.”
There have been eight instances of a team shooting .610 or better this season.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) December 19, 2022
4 by Minnesota
4 by everybody else, combined
That is an example of why Finch senses a growing trust among his players not only in the offense, but in each other.
“I also sense a growing sense of accountability. Guys know when they’ve taken bad shots and should’ve moved it on and stuff like that. Those things happen. It’s basketball. But it comes from a way more genuine place.”
While many will point out the team scored a franchise record 150 points without the two players upon which the team’s unconventional all-in bet hinges, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, players would be quick to tell you that it has far more to do with everyone stepping up and starring in their roles.
“Ant and D-Lo have been super transparent to me and everybody on the team, how we can help them and how they can help us as well,” Knight said postgame of the starting back-court’s leadership, before sharing their message to players seeing increased opportunities. “Just play our role. Be the best version of ourselves. You know, we’ve all played this game for a long time. We all know how we impact the game to the best of our abilities.
“For me, tonight that was through screening and rolling on the offensive end, making the right plays on the defensive and talking, being in the right spot when I need to be. That just shows values to the leadership that D-Lo and Ant have,” Knight continued. “Ant’s younger than me. His ability to see the game like that and coach us up as well is something that’s really invaluable to this team.”
Even though he’s 21 years old, Edwards knows what goes into winning basketball and being part of a supportive team on which role players frequently step up into starring roles to help the team win.
“Stayin’ talking to each other. I think communication. I talk to Nate every day. If y’all could ever sit down, ask Nate, ‘Do Ant really talk to you all the time?’” Edwards told Canis Hoopus. “I try to talk to him as much as possible, to keep him locked in, because I knew we was gonna need him. Know what I’m sayin? And today’s the day we needed him. And we need him even more now, like tomorrow and the game after that. So try to keep him locked-in.”
While a performance of 37 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and two steals could be an inflection point, the true season-altering development is Anthony Edwards becoming a leader whose relationship-building ability and personality can inspire a franchise record breaking night.
As for that smashed record?
We might need a clean-up on aisle three.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Wolves, who take on the 15-15 Dallas Mavericks tonight at 7 PM CT for the first of a two-game set at Target Center this week.
Dallas has lost four of its last six and may be without Luka Dončić, who is questionable to play with a right quad strain. Beyond potentially Luka, the Mavericks will also be without Josh Green (right elbow sprain) and Maxi Kleber (right hamstring tear). Dāvis Bertāns (non-COVID illness), Tim Hardaway Jr. (non-COVID illness) and Dwight Powell (left thigh contusion) are all questionable.
Meanwhile, it is expected that Rudy Gobert, who has missed the last two games with a left ankle sprain, will make his return to the lineup.
150 POINTS. A new single-game franchise record.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 19, 2022
Ant - 37 PTS / 7 REB / 11 AST / 2 STL
DLo - 28 PTS / 2 REB / 8 AST
Nate - 16 PTS / 2 REB / 3 AST
Jaden - 15 PTS / 8 REB / 5 AST / 3 BLK
Austin - 14 PTS / 4 REB / 1 AST pic.twitter.com/p95PJBY90P