Edwards outduels Jokic: Wolves 'know who we are'

DENVER — If you asked another young star what it felt like to go into the defending champs’ building and put up a career playoff-high 43 points in a 106-99 Game 1 win to tip off the second round, he might call it a statement performance.

If he was really feeling himself, he might say Saturday night represented a seismic shift in the balance of power in the Western Conference with the Minnesota Timberwolves stealing home court away from the Denver Nuggets.

However, Anthony Edwards isn’t like any other young star today. He might not be like any other young star in league history.

“It’s not about introducing ourselves to nobody. We know who we are,” Edwards said when asked about Minnesota playing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in two decades. “We’re coming out and as long as we got each other’s backs, it don’t really matter what anybody else thinks.”

Edwards joked that he might not even have been born when Kevin Garnett and the Wolves beat the Sacramento Kings in the second round in 2004 to make the only conference finals appearance in franchise history.

Whatever past woes that Wolves have had in the postseason, the current team is having a moment. It’s now 5-0 in the playoffs, including a sweep of the Phoenix Suns in the first round, with Edwards joining Kobe Bryant as the only other player in NBA postseason history with consecutive 40-point performances at age 22 or younger, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Edwards’ 119 points over his past three playoff games are the most by a Wolves player over a three-game span in the team’s postseason history. And he did it Saturday by outplaying the reigning NBA Finals MVP — and a top-three finalist for the regular-season MVP this year — in Nikola Jokic.

“To be honest, he’s a special player, I have huge respect for him, he can do everything on the floor,” Jokic said of Edwards. “You need to give him respect, how good and how talented he is.”

Jokic finished with 32 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds and 3 steals, but he shot just 11-for-25 from the field (2-for-9 from 3) and coughed up a game-high 7 turnovers. When asked how he could be better against the Wolves’ three-headed front line of Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid in Game 2, Jokic quipped he would need to “have a duplicate clone of myself.”

Edwards, meanwhile, shot 17-for-29 with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks and just 1 turnover. Even more remarkable, he shot 7-for-10 on heavily contested jump shots in Game 1, according to Second Spectrum. This postseason, he’s shooting 53% on heavily contested jumpers, the best in the NBA.

Despite the disparity in production between the two stars, Edwards still deferred to the opponent, while giving credit to his teammates for the outcome.

“Going against the best player in the world is always fun, going against the best team in the world is always fun,” Edwards said. “Our guys came out and competed tonight. So, it’s not about me personally, it’s about my team. They give me confidence also.”

Edwards was perfect from the field to start things off, going 5-for-5 during the Wolves’ 18-4 run in the first seven minutes of the first quarter. The Nuggets battled back to take a 44-40 lead by halftime, holding every Minnesota player other than Edwards to just 6-for-27 shooting (22.2%). The Wolves pushed back ahead in the third while Edwards said he “didn’t do anything” and “was just out there running up and down” while Towns went 5-for-5 to score 11 of his 20 points and Mike Conley went 4-for-4 to score 11 of his 14.

The fourth belonged to Edwards and Reid, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. Edwards, who was held scoreless in the fourth quarter in both of the Wolves’ regular-season losses to Denver, scored 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting to close things out. Reid scored 14 of his 16 in the fourth — including 10 straight for the Wolves — to seal it.

“For a guy like me who’s seen him grow from day one to where he is now, I think he’s a superstar in the making if he’s not [already] now,” Reid said of Edwards. “He’s a tremendous player and a tremendous person off the court. … He’s a guy you want to be around.”

And Minnesota plans to stick around the playoffs for a while to come, as evidenced by the “11” written in big black numerals on the whiteboard in the visitors locker room at Ball Arena after the game. It represents the number of wins the Wolves still need to capture the first championship in team history this spring.

“He’s been growing every day, he’s been getting more mature every single night,” Gobert said of Edwards. “So it’s fun to be a part of.”

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