Thursday, May 23, 2024

‘Ant-Man’ Edwards Erupts for 43 as T-Wolves Stun Champion Nuggets in Game 1

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The young, brash Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t being introduced to anyone. As rising star Anthony Edwards emphatically stated, “We know what we are.” And in Game 1 against the defending champion Denver Nuggets, they announced themselves as a serious force with a stunning 106-99 road victory.

Leading the charge was the 22-year-old Edwards, whose playoff coming-out party saw him erupt for 43 points – the highest scoring output of his blossoming postseason career. The smooth-shooting guard was simply sensational, slicing through Denver’s elite defense with a barrage of acrobatic finishes, stepback jumpers and momentum-seizing buckets.

“I’m 22,” Edwards pointedly corrected a teammate who listed his age as 23 during the postgame podium comments. While wise beyond his years, the supremely confident Edwards has not even celebrated his 23rd birthday yet. But he played like a veteran superstar in spelling the Nuggets.

From the opening tip, it was the Ant-Man taking center stage and stealing the spotlight. Edwards poured in 15 quick points in the first quarter alone as Minnesota seized an early lead it would never relinquish. With a full arsenal of drives, triple threats and heat-check bombs, the athletic 2-guard displayed a mode of scorching that was simply unstoppable.

Whether it was blowing past bigger defenders off the dribble for thunderous dunks or burying deep jumpers in their faces, Edwards found every way to demoralize Denver’s overmatched defense. At one point he got so hot that he shook loose with a series of dribble moves and stepped back to swish a preposterous 28-foot rainmaker over a hapless Aaron Gordon.

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“He was just in a special type of zone,” said impressed teammate Mike Conley. “You could see it in his eyes – he was locked in and feeling it. Once he gets that look, he’s incredibly hard to slow down or rattle.”

Whenever the Nuggets made a run to get back into the game, Edwards simply ripped their hearts out again with a fresh batch of jaw-dropping plays. His two biggest daggers came in the final five minutes as he carried the Wolves across the finish line.

First, with Minnesota clinging to a 92-88 lead, Edwards used a vicious crossover to free himself up for a powerful two-handed slam while drawing a foul on reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. His thunderous and-1 bucket put the Wolves up 7 and sent a clear message.

Then, after Denver had battled back within 5 at 100-95 with 1:30 remaining, Edwards aggressively drove and kicked to Naz Reid for a dagger triple that essentially sealed the Game 1 road win.

“We’re just coming out to play,” shrugged Edwards when asked about Minnesota’s shocking victory over the champions. “It’s not about introducing us to nobody, we know what we are.”

What the supremely confident Timberwolves appear to be is a dangerous, cohesive young squad coming into its own. While Edwards provided the prime-time shotmaking, his stellar performance was complemented by a balanced team effort from Minnesota’s core trio of stars.

Karl-Anthony Towns battled through a slow start to finish with 25 points and 10 rebounds, frequently making Jokic work on the defensive end. Rudy Gobert was a handful inside with 12 points, 11 boards and typically stout defense while hounding Jokic in the paint.

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The Wolves employed a smart team strategy of frequently throwing different elite size and length at the Nuggets’ unstoppable center. Gobert, Towns and the sturdy Naz Reid took turns making Jokic grind through layers of physicality and positioning.

“The game plan was simple – we just wanted to make him work,” said Gobert. “Obviously he’s incredible and still got his numbers. But we wanted to be bodies on him constantly and not let him get any cheap looks.”

While Jokic finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists, he did have to labor extensively against Minnesota’s brawny defensive scheme. The two-time MVP displayed his usual brilliance in getting teammates involved, but also had to expend tremendous energy fighting through double-teams and overaggressive bodying up.

Head coach Michael Malone credited the Wolves’ physicality while also lamenting his team’s poor shooting night beyond Jokic: “They really committed to hitting him and being physical. But we also missed too many open looks around the from. Can’t just rely on him every night.”

Indeed, aside from Jokic, the Nuggets struggled to generate consistent scoring. Aaron Gordon was the only other Denver player in double figures with 12 points before fouling out late. An ailing Jamal Murray managed just 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting while appearing to still be hampered by injuries.

In stark contrast, Minnesota got valuable contributions from up and down the roster. Naz Reid sparked the Wolves with 16 huge points off the bench, frequently looking unguardable in his drives and crafty finishes. Kyle Anderson tallied 9 points and did excellent work blanketing Murray on the defensive end.

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After letting Denver bully them into a first-round exit a year ago, the Timberwolves came out and landed the first punches in this series. Minnesota used a brilliant 33-27 third quarter to seize control and never relented, weathering every Nuggets haymaker behind the sublime Edwards.

Far from being awed by the moment, the poised Wolves played with supreme confidence and swagger in ripping home-court from the champions. Their commitment to physical, swarming defense set the tone, then Edwards took over with his effortless scoring brilliance.

For Minnesota, it was the biggest playoff statement in nearly two decades of futility – firmly announcing their arrival as a force to be reckoned with in the rugged Western Conference. They took the upstart Grizzlies to 6 hard-fought games in Round 1 before breaking through.

Now the hungry Wolves have drawn first blood against the mighty Nuggets, stealing Game 1 and home-court in the process. While Denver will certainly bounce back with a response, Minnesota has showcased a fearlessness and cohesion that should make the champs sweat.

Leading that confident charge is the one they call Ant-Man. Because if Saturday’s virtuoso performance was any indication, the sensational Edwards is just getting started in announcing himself as the NBA’s next big thing.



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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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