The Wolves aren't coming for the crown. They're already here

DENVER — Who knows if this is the moment for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who refuse to acknowledge the generational trauma they’re breaking with every playoff win, with every soul-crushing run they’re putting on more established names.

But what we do know is Anthony Edwards’ time could be arriving a lot quicker than even the biggest optimist could’ve predicted.

And that should have the champion Denver Nuggets on high alert, if not headed toward full worry. Edwards had a diet of capable defenders in his face and sent them all the other way with looks of bewilderment, frustration and helplessness.

Edwards’ playoff career-high 43 points paced the Timberwolves to a somewhat shocking Game 1 win at Ball Arena on Saturday, 106-99. Usually, when the champion drops a series-opening home game in a playoff series, the word “steal” comes into play — but it didn’t look like the Timberwolves stole Game 1.

They made an announcement to the NBA world that has yet to fully embrace them, that they’re not coming, but they’re here. And holding the bullhorn was the budding superstar who made sure to let the world know he’s 22, not 23.

“I’m 22,” Edwards said, correcting teammate Mike Conley on the podium when Conley was referencing Edwards’ on-court maturity and trusting his teammates, saying he’s “22, 23 years old.”

Edwards was built for this moment, even though it’s a second-round series and not the Western Conference finals. But for all intents and purposes, it might as well be. It’s the NBA’s glamour series of the second round, and he stands to grow so much more in stature over the coming weeks, assuming nights like Saturday continue.

There will be a segment of people upset the usual suspects aren’t taking the stage as the playoffs go on, but the kid with the bright smile and brighter future is right in front of the world’s eyes, waiting for everyone to take notice.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards reacts after hitting a basket in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards reacts after hitting a basket in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards reacts after hitting a basket in the first half of Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“We’re just coming out to play. It’s not about introducing us to nobody, we know what we are,” Edwards said. “We’re a collective group. We trust each other, we’re well-coached.”

“We’re locked in,” Conley added.

Edwards might as well have turned off the lights in the building with his fourth-quarter buckets, half ridiculous quickness and athleticism, half fundamental base that looks so similar to players in his lineage.

You mix that up and you have clear and present danger for the champions, who lost their first home playoff game since Game 2 of last year’s Finals against the Miami Heat.

The Timberwolves have been building to play against this team, this season, and they look more than ready for the challenge.

“I think it’s about us. You know, obviously, we truly believe that Denver is one of the top teams in this league, but we know we believe in our abilities,” said Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert, one of the three with the task of defending probable Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokić.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid also share in the responsibility, and, for a game at least, the strategy seemed to work. Jokić scored 32 points with 9 assists and 8 rebounds, but took 25 shots — the most he’s taken in a playoff game this year.

“I can have a duplicate clone of myself,” said Jokić, tongue in cheek, on how he can best deal with the three bigs. “That way when one of them checks into the game, I can have a fresh version.”

Edwards saw just as many defenders. From lanky veteran Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, one of the league’s best, to Aaron Gordon, a bigger, stronger defender, to reserves Christian Braun and Justin Holiday.

Each required a different plan of attack and Edwards seemed to execute the scouting report perfectly. It takes a special talent to pace a team that couldn’t shoot straight initially, with Edwards scoring 15 in the first quarter, while still keeping his teammates involved and not forcing his own offense.

Those are lessons some greats didn’t learn until deep into their careers, if at all. But Edwards has a way of reading the game that keeps him in attack mode but also making sophisticated reads to get off the ball.

“These guys are gonna make shots. Everybody’s gonna miss shots, I don’t make all my shots,” Edwards said. “If they’re open, I’m gonna pass it every single time.”

Like all the special ones, he knows it’ll come back to him. He knows the game will, at some point, be in his hands.

Edwards attacked the night like Kendrick Lamar did on an overmatched rival, repeatedly squelching Nuggets threats with adult plays, never once feeling like the game was too big for him. While it feels like the Nuggets’ biggest rival is the Lakers, it’s the Timberwolves who gave them their toughest competition last spring, despite it being a five-game first-round series.

“I lost to these guys last year, they are the defending champions,” Edwards said. “The best player in the league, in Nikola Jokić. To me they have the best closer in Jamal Murray.”

Edwards might be challenging Murray for that title soon, especially if Murray continues to hobble around on that calf injury he sustained against the Lakers in Round 1. Even with the extended days of rest, he didn’t look like himself, shooting 6-of-14 — thus leading to Jokić having to take more control of the offense.

And, Murray had to deal with a cat-quick guard hounding him for large parts of the night. That’s right, Edwards had no issue taking on the Murray assignment early — and while that seems on its face to be a lot of energy expended on both ends of the floor, he leaves plenty of space for teammates like Towns and Conley to exploit their matchups, and still having to be accounted for by Denver’s defense when he doesn’t have the ball.

Towns shook off a slow start to surge in the third quarter, when Edwards wasn’t as assertive as he was in the first half when he dropped 25. Then in the fourth, Reid scored 14 of his 16 points — with two 3-point plays courtesy of Edwards passes.

That’s the danger the Nuggets find themselves in, early as it may be. The champions will be heard from, but Edwards and the Timberwolves will be right there, waiting for the next shot, ready to deliver a counterpunch of their own.

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