MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Edwards wasn’t ready for the end of his season. And he certainly wasn’t ready for the Denver Nuggets to send the Minnesota Timberwolves home without winning a game in their first-round series.
“I never want to say I’ve been carried away in my career,” Edwards said Sunday night. “So I definitely took it personally tonight.”
With their backs to the wall, the 8th-seeded Timberwolves defeated the first-seeded Nuggets 114-108 in overtime to avoid the sweep and send the series back to Denver with the Nuggets 3-1 up.
It looked like the Timberwolves would head to victory late in the game when they took a 12-point lead over an Edwards jumper by 2:52 and received a time-out from Nuggets coach Michael Malone.
From there, Denver finished regulation with a 12-0 run to send the game into overtime and reassure Target Center allegiance.
The Nuggets hit three consecutive 3-pointers – one from Nikola Jokic and two from Michael Porter Jr. – and then Jokic hit a jumper in the lane with 48.9 seconds left to reduce Minnesota’s lead to 96-95. With 12.7 seconds left, Jokic was fouled and hit one of two free throws to level the game.
Edwards had a chance to win the game in the rule but was pulled off by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as he rose to a shot in the dying seconds.
“At that point it was like there was nothing we could do in the last two minutes. But we can control the next five,” said Timberwolves veteran point guard Mike Conley. “Let’s come here as a group and remind ourselves again of what we did to get that lead.”
Despite finishing team-best with 34 points in 12-of-27 shooting, Edwards was critical of his fourth-quarter play and his overall game in general.
“I played terribly if you ask me,” Edwards said. “I took three bad 3s, three terrible possessions and I almost put us out of the game. I didn’t play that well tonight.”
Edwards was 1-of-5 in the fourth quarter, his layup to take the Timberwolves to 12 being his only success. He previously missed three shots – although one was from midfield – before also missing the potential game winner at the end of regulation.
With victory in hand, Edwards said he knew what he would do differently if Wolves were in this situation again.
“If we’re six or eight up in three minutes, I’ll definitely go downhill to the rim or take a mid-range shot,” Edwards said. “I will not be satisfied. I’ve settled for three bad bad terrible 3s and it won’t happen again.”
Edwards hit both shots in overtime, both coming in big moments. First, he hit a layup with 1:29 left to extend Minnesota’s lead to seven. But after the Nuggets hit on three consecutive possessions, Wolves once again stared at a possible meltdown.
But playing at 11.5, Edwards confidently stepped into a 3-pointer after a hard crossover dribble to give Wolves a four-point lead.
“I didn’t pass the ball,” Edwards said. “I took the shot. I wanted to live with whether I lost the game or whether we won. And in the end I got the shot.”
“I never want to say I’ve been carried away in my career. So I definitely took it personally tonight.”
While Edwards’ shot comfortably leveled Wolves, he named Nickeil Alexander-Walker the “MVP” of the game.
With Jaden McDaniels out with a broken right hand, Alexander-Walker has taken on the task of guarding Nuggets star Jamal Murray. But it was his offense that helped decide the game late.
Despite missing all three of his 3-point attempts up to that point, Alexander-Walker came through in overtime with two back-to-back corner 3s to give Minnesota the lead and then level them to five.
“Ready to shoot,” said Alexander-Walker when asked what he was thinking when the ball was passed to him late. “I know the rotations, I watch a lot of films. I just stayed prepared. I know my teammates will rely on me because they’re playing the right game. And just have faith in my work, trust her and finally know the law of averages, the shots have to be fired.”
Malone criticized his team’s defensive performance in overtime. After holding the Timberwolves to just 16 points in the fourth quarter, Minnesota had 18 in the five five minutes.
“The hardest thing about that game is that we weren’t willing or able to get the stops we needed,” Malone said.
According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, the Timberwolves became the first team to score more points in the first overtime 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 their offense back on track in overtime was ball movement. The Timberwolves had two assists going off in the fourth quarter on 7/19 but assisted four of their six baskets in overtime.
“I think we have to keep getting involved,” said Wolves coach Chris Finch. “I think that’s part of the problem when we’re coming down (on ourselves) or trying to finish the game too soon.”
Edwards continued his great post-season run and Finch said he’s building on what he started a year ago. Edwards has 280 points in his first 10 career playoff games. That’s seventh for any player in the 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 accomplishments aged 21 or younger is James. Edwards broke a tie with Kobe Bryant at four.
When asked if he was in the same conversation as these two legends, Edwards was quick to deny it.
“Those are just statistics,” Edwards said. “These guys won championships … but I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make it past the first lap. It’s great to be mentioned with these guys, but I still have work to do.”