Edwards: Avoiding sweep was personal for me
2:50 AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Edwards wasn’t ready for his season to be over. And he certainly wasn’t ready for the Denver Nuggets to send the Minnesota Timberwolves packing without winning a game in their first-round series.
“I don’t ever want to say I got swept in my career,” Edwards said Sunday night. “So I definitely took it personally tonight.”
With their backs against the wall, the eighth-seeded Timberwolves took down the top-seeded Nuggets 114-108 in overtime to avoid the sweep and send the series back to Denver with the Nuggets leading 3-1.
It looked like the Timberwolves were going to cruise to victory late in the game as they took a 12-point lead on an Edwards jumper with 2:52 remaining, drawing a timeout from Nuggets coach Michael Malone.
From there, Denver finished regulation on a 12-0 run to send the game to overtime and quiet the Target Center faithful.
The Nuggets hit three consecutive 3-pointers — one by Nikola Jokic and two from Michael Porter Jr. — and then Jokic hit a jumper in the lane with 48.9 seconds left to cut Minnesota’s advantage to 96-95. With 12.7 seconds left, Jokic was fouled and hit one of two free throws to tie the game.
Edwards had a chance to win the game in regulation but was stripped by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as he rose for a shot in the final seconds.
“At that point it was like, [there’s] nothing we can do about the last two minutes. But we can control the next five,” Timberwolves veteran point guard Mike Conley said. “Let’s come out here as a group and lock back in on what we did to get that lead.”
Despite finishing with a team-high 34 points on 12-of-27 shooting, Edwards was critical of his play in the fourth quarter and his overall game in general.
“I played terrible if you ask me,” Edwards said. “I took three bad 3s, three terrible possessions, and I damn near shot us out the game. I didn’t play that good tonight.”
Edwards was 1-of-5 in the fourth quarter, with his jump shot to put the Timberwolves up 12 his only make. He missed three shots prior to that — although one was a midrange 2-point attempt — before also missing the potential game winner at the end of regulation.
With the win in hand, Edwards said he knows what he’d do differently if the Wolves are in that situation again.
“If we’re up six or eight with three minutes, I’m definitely getting downhill to the rim or getting a midrange shot,” Edwards said. “I’m not going to settle. I settled for three bad, bad, terrible 3s, and it won’t happen again.”
Edwards hit both of his shots in the overtime period, with both coming at big moments. First, he hit a layup with 1:29 left to stretch Minnesota’s lead to seven. But after the Nuggets scored on three consecutive possessions, the Wolves were again staring down a potential meltdown.
But with 11.5 seconds to play, Edwards confidently stepped into a 3-pointer after a hard crossover dribble to give the Wolves a four-point lead.
“I wasn’t passing the ball,” Edwards said. “I was taking the shot. I was going to live with whether I lost us the game or we won. And I ended up hitting the shot.”
“I don’t ever want to say I got swept in my career. So I definitely took it personally tonight.”
While Edwards’ shot put the Wolves up comfortably, he called Nickeil Alexander-Walker the “MVP” of the game.
With Jaden McDaniels out because of a broken right hand, Alexander-Walker has picked up the assignment of guarding Nuggets star Jamal Murray. But it was Alexander-Walker’s offense that helped decide the game late.
Despite missing all three of his 3-point attempts to that point, Alexander-Walker came through with two back-to-back corner 3s in overtime to give Minnesota the lead and then push it to five.
“Shot ready,” Alexander-Walker said when asked what he was thinking as the ball was passed to him late. “I know the rotations, watching a lot of film. Just stayed prepared. I know my teammates are going to rely on me because they’re making that right play. And just being confident in my work, trusting it and knowing that eventually the law of averages, the shots have to fall.”
Malone was critical of his team’s defensive performance in the overtime period. After his team held the Timberwolves to just 16 points in the fourth quarter, Minnesota had 18 in the five minutes of overtime.
“The hardest thing to stomach about this game is that we were unwilling and unable to get necessary stops,” Malone said.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Timberwolves became the first team to score more points in the first overtime period of a game than they did in the fourth quarter since the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the 2006 playoffs (21 in OT, 17 in the fourth quarter) against the Lakers in the first round.
Part of what allowed Minnesota to get its offense going again was ball movement. The Timberwolves had two assists while going 7-of-19 from the field in the fourth quarter but assisted on four of their six baskets in the extra period.
“I think we got to continue to get into something,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “I think that’s part of the problem is we get down [on ourselves] or we’re trying to close out the game too early.”
Edwards continued his great postseason run, and Finch said the All-Star guard is building off what he started a year ago. In his first 10 career playoff games, Edwards has scored 280 points. That’s the seventh most of any player in their first 10 playoff games since 1979, behind only Michael Jordan, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Trae Young and Allen Iverson.
It was Edwards’ fifth 30-point game in those 10 games. The only player with more 30-point playoff performances at age 21 or younger is James. Edwards broke a tie with Kobe Bryant with four.
When asked about being in the same conversation as those two legends, Edwards was quick to dismiss it.
“It’s just stats,” Edwards said. “Those guys have won championships … but I haven’t done anything. I haven’t made it out of the first round. It’s great to be mentioned with those guys, but I still have work to do.”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.