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Wolves 114, Nuggets 108: Anthony Edwards Isn’t Getting Swept

Edwards’ team-high 34 points led the Timberwolves back from the brink to force a Game 5 in Denver on Tuesday.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

“I don’t ever want to say I got swept in my career. So, I definitely took it personally tonight,” Anthony Edwards said after his team-high 34-point performance, leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 114-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets to force a Game 5.

The young superstar passed the late, great Kobe Bryant with his fifth postseason game of 30 points or more at age 21 or younger, placing him behind only LeBron James (eight).

“He’s got a special quality we’ve talked about. He’s not afraid of those moments at this point in time. You see what [players are] made of. They can shy away from them. He certainly doesn’t,” Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch said postgame. “He’s just building on what he did last year in the playoffs, which is really impressive for a player of his age.”

(Editor’s note: if you are reading on Apple News, please click here to view embedded videos in the article and get the best reading experience.)

Instead of letting a turnover on the final possession of regulation push him into a more passive mode in overtime, Edwards stayed aggressive and came back to hit the biggest shot of the night to earn another opportunity to extend the series on Tuesday.

That was the story of the game for Edwards, who struggled in the first half. The All-Star scored just 11 points on 3/9 shooting in the first half and the crowd was completely out of the game until early in the third quarter as a result.

At the 7:25 mark of the third quarter, with the Wolves trailing 64-55, the in-arena producers showed 2022-23 NCAA Women’s College Basketball National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark on the jumbotron, who got a roaring welcome from the Target Center crowd that legitimately breathed life back into the arena. Edwards took it from there.

The present and future of the franchise proceeded to make six of his next seven shots en route to a 16-point third quarter avalanche that devastated the Nuggets and completely flipped the game. Ant scored or assisted on 20 of the team’s final 25 points of the quarter as he fueled a 25-10 Wolves run over the final 7:14 of the third that secured Minnesota a six-point lead entering the final frame.

After the assist from Clark, Edwards pretty much singlehandedly transformed the vibe at Target Center from a funeral to a Game-7-like atmosphere with one of his patented THIRD quarter explosions.

“The energy he brings, his personality. When he’s playing like that, you see the joy. You see the kid come out of him and you can’t help but get excited and he brings everybody along,” Mike Conley said about why Edwards’ big runs give the team such a boost. “He’s just a fun dude to be around when he’s going like that. We just love to be a part of those runs, and we need more of them.”

Ant sensed the team needed a lift.

“We’re down nine. I know my team. I know they’re counting on me to pick us up. That’s just what I do. I feel like in those moments, that’s when I come alive the most is when we go down.”

The best part about it is that even though he very clearly was the reason why the Timberwolves even came close to winning the game tonight, he didn’t accept an ounce of the credit. Edwards took time to credit each of his seven teammates that played in the rotation beside him.

Ant finished with 34 points, six rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals, and passed Kevin Garnett for the most points scored in the first four games of a playoffs in Timberwolves history with 129.

Anthony Edwards is incredibly special. So few players are able to do what he can do with the ball in his hands on the floor, but even fewer are able to genuinely celebrate his teammates and galvanize a locker room like he can.

Win or lose on Tuesday, we should all be grateful that Edwards secured us the opportunity to watch him etch another memory in his playoff story on Tuesday, because it’s clear that while the chapters are still being written, the final story is going to be something so great we can’t even begin to comprehend its magnitude.

No matter what happens the rest of the series or this summer, the Wolves’ future is brighter than ever because he is at the center of it.

It’s already 2:30 AM and I have to work tomorrow, so let’s quickly get into some takeaways.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Nickeil Alexander-Walker Comes Through Again

We didn’t need more proof that the deadline deal sending out D’Angelo Russell for Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and three second-round picks was one of the best trades in franchise history, but NAW on Sunday night provided us with some more for good measure.

The wiry perimeter stopper in Game 4 played defense like his life depended on it for the entirety of his 37:57 on the floor; he followed Jamal Murray all over the floor like an All-Pro corner would do to ruin a wide receiver’s day. Alexander-Walker held Murray to 19 points on 8/21 shooting (38.1%), and forced Murray to commit at least three turnovers for the third straight game.

“He’s been everything for us, man. Missing Jaden is definitely big, but he’s stepped in and just been that defensive player we needed,” Edwards said about NAW postgame. “I’m just happy for him. He’s getting his chance and he’s showcasing his abilities. It’s definitely a good thing.”

Edwards wasn’t the only one singing the 24-year-old’s praises after the game.

“I’m just proud of him, honestly. He’s been through a lot in his early career, been on a few teams now – I was lucky enough to play with him in Utah, and he’s just grown every year,” Conley said.

“His ability to continue to work, continue to not let himself get too down, even at times when he doesn’t play, not in the rotation, and now all of a sudden he comes to a different team, still wasn’t in the rotation to begin with and now he comes out and gets his opportunity on the biggest stage against one of the better teams in the league. It really shows who he is, it really shows his work ethic, his resiliency and I’m just really happy for him and hope that this is the beginning of something special for him.”

“After that Game 2, I kind of took it personal and tried to do my best. Make it tough for him. He’s going to make tough shots, but knowing that I’m there the next possession, just trying to disrupt his rhythm, be as physical as I can,” Alexander-Walker said postgame. “It’s the playoffs. They’re still going to make some touchy calls. But just trying to show my hands early and help my team. That’s all I care about.”

Beyond playing lights out defense, he drained two of the biggest shots of the game — back-to-back 3s in overtime — to give the Wolves the cushion that they rode to the finish line.

“Again, x-factor of our team. He came in, he played defense at a high level on Jamal, and we gave him the ball with some of the biggest shots of the night and he capitalized,” Karl-Anthony Towns said of NAW. “He’s always ready for the moment. He’s a professional and he’s super talented, so we’re very fortunate to have him.”

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

2-Point Defense

The Timberwolves lost Game 3 because the Nuggets downright torched Minnesota’s drop coverage with Rudy Gobert guarding Nikola Jokić. Denver shot 16/19 (84%) from 4-14 feet and 32/41 (78%) on 2s inside of 14 feet overall in Game 3. But on Sunday, Finch went back to Towns to guard Jokić and it paid off. The Nuggets shot 9/26 (34.6%) on those looks in Game 4.

Minnesota was more aggressive in hedging (and even switching at times) on hand-offs in order to prevent Denver’s guards from getting downhill and into the paint where they could elevate for floaters.

“I don’t think they were able to walk cleanly in the shots that they had been able to in those first few games,” Finch told Canis Hoopus postgame.

“I think a lot of times [in Game 3] we were just trying to let guys play 1 on 1 and space out to our man. Today, I think we did a much better job of crowding areas, crowding Jokić in the paint, crowding Jamal. Just making them make tough, contested shots. They’re great at doing that, they are, but I thought tonight we just did a much better job not letting them get to spots so comfortably,” Conley told Canis Hoopus.

“We kind of put more resistance on that. Rudy was big. I think KAT, Kyle, everybody was doing a really good job of being physical. We hope to hold them to those numbers again and see if we can come out with a win.”

Edwards credited Towns for his work in preventing Jokić from doing damage as a passer and in the hand-off role in the two-man game.

“He pressured Jokic. I know Jokić had a great night [scoring], but I mean, he just pressured his vision and made it hard for him. Shoutout to KAT, man, he did a great job defensively tonight,” Edwards said. “He did something that we’ve been asking from him for a minute, and he did it tonight. And I’m gonna call him when I get in the car, and I’m gonna tell him we need it again in Game 5.”

Given that the Timberwolves may be without Kyle Anderson (eye) in Game 5, it will be imperative for Towns to be able to replicate his work again when the series shifts back to Denver on Tuesday.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Austin Rivers and the Value of Staying Ready

It would’ve been very easy for Austin Rivers to give up on the Wolves. Following a strong stretch of play leading up to the trade deadline, Finch elevated Alexander-Walker into the rotation after NAW outplayed Rivers in a couple of games post-deadline and Rivers remained out of the rotation essentially for the rest of the regular season.

Rivers, 30, could’ve ridden out his one-year deal and moved on without anyone batting an eye. Instead, he continued to be a great teammate by supporting his guys on the floor, coaching up Edwards and Alexander-Walker when they came off the floor, and staying mentally ready so that when his opportunity came, he’d be able to capitalize. That’s exactly what he did on Sunday.

Finch called Rivers’ number in the third quarter after disastrous first half minutes from Jordan McLaughlin and Jaylen Nowell. The 11-year vet entered the game and immediately made an impact with strong perimeter defense, before confidently draining a triple that gave the Wolves a three-point lead late in the period and set the crowd ablaze.

The Timberwolves struggled in the minutes with Towns and four guards/wings lineups in the first three games of the series, but played much better tonight because of quick decision-making and good ball movement — two things Rivers provides.

“Yeah, we put out a lineup that they had to guard a little more honestly,” Finch told Canis Hoopus about the success of those lineups. “KAT did actually a good job of establishing good position, playing physical playing through the contact, drawing fouls, getting to the post.”

It was easier for Towns to do that with someone like Rivers spacing to the corner, cutting off KAT’s mid-post touches, and quickly swinging kick-out passes to create scramble situations.

Finch was complimentary of Rivers postgame.

“I thought Austin really gave us good minutes out there, especially defense, hit the corner 3. Smart basketball. Silly me, probably should’ve been playing him longer.”

The former Duke star finished with five points and a rebound he took coast-to-coast for a bucket, but was a team-high +8 in the 10:33 of consecutive run he got in the second half. You can bet he’ll be in the rotation for Game 5.

Next Up

The Timberwolves will travel to Denver on Monday for a Game 5 showdown with the Nuggets on Tuesday. You can catch the 8:00 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North and NBA TV.

Game Highlights