Edwards drops 33, lets Suns know in decisive win

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MINNEAPOLIS — With the Target Center pulsating, Anthony Edwards decided to take the temperature of his shooting streak.

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ dynamic young superstar, dripping with confidence, had already buried a string of jumpers, becoming more animated after each one widened the score. Then, with 48 seconds left in the game-defining third quarter, Edwards drifted toward the left wing and took aim.

Kevin Durant’s infinite wingspan was a touch too late on the closeout, and Edwards’ 3-pointer danced through the net, letting loose a deafening roar from a sellout crowd.

The Timberwolves’ lead stretched to 16, and Edwards, 22, celebrated by bobbing his head up and down, pounding one hand on his chest and shouting at Durant, 35, who shook his head and smiled. The moment electrified the crowd, but it also felt like something more, something with historic gravity — the future announcing its arrival, perhaps.

“I think everybody here knows that’s my favorite player of all time, so that was probably one of the best feelings ever in my whole life,” Edwards said after scoring a game-high 33 in the Timberwolves’ 120-95 Game 1 win against the Phoenix Suns.

The Timberwolves’ 25-point victory marked their second largest in postseason history, according to ESPN Stats & Information, behind only a 28-point trouncing of the Los Angeles Lakers on April 22, 2003. And Edwards was the catalyst. The former No. 1 pick added nine rebounds, six assists and another notch to his growing legend.

Dating to last season, Saturday proved to be his fifth straight playoff game with 25 or more points — the longest such streak in team history. Edwards’ sixth playoff game of 30 or more points also placed him one behind Timberwolves great Kevin Garnett for the most such games in franchise history.

But Edwards’ biggest impact came in the third quarter, when he scored 18 points — tied with Sam Cassell for most in a quarter in Timberwolves playoff history — and notched more field goals (8) than the Suns (6) did as a team.

By the end of that quarter, the Timberwolves led by 20 — just the second time in franchise history that they have led by that much entering the fourth quarter of a postseason contest. The fourth quarter largely amounted to garbage time.

Game 2 of the series is Tuesday, with the Timberwolves seeking to escape the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2004. Durant, a 14-time All-Star playing his first full season in Phoenix, led the Suns with 31 points. He acknowledged the obvious in terms of his exchange with Edwards: “He got it going, he made some tough ones.”

But Edwards, a two-time All-Star, lobbed considerable praise toward Durant.

“Did you see him in the third quarter?” Edwards remarked of Durant. “I felt like we were supposed to be up 15, 18 in the third quarter early. And if I’m not mistaken, he made four or five straight buckets like it was nothing. And I became a fan at one point. I was out there like, ‘Goddamn, he nice.’ There’s nothing we can do. [Karl-Anthony Towns] was playing great defense. Rudy [Gobert] was playing great defense.

“I’m looking at the stat sheet, he’s 11-for-17 [from the field]. He missed six shots and had 31. I mean, he’s the greatest to ever do it, man. Big tip of my hat to him, he’s the best.”

Indeed, Durant made four jumpers early in the third quarter, but he ultimately took only five shots in the second half. Devin Booker finished with 18 points on 16 shots, but he managed just 1-of-7 from the field when guarded by Jaden McDaniels, the Timberwolves’ defensive specialist on the perimeter. Bradley Beal scored 15 points on 10 shots.

“This was probably their best game that we’ve seen,” Beal said. “Respectfully so, it’s one game.”

The win marked an about-face for Minnesota, which lost all three regular-season contests to Phoenix by double digits.

The most recent defeat came Sunday, when the Timberwolves fell by a nearly identical score — 125-106 — compared to what they posted Saturday.

These guys came here and whooped us in our home court in the last game of the season and were giggling and laughing,” Edwards recalled. “Beal, he told our coach that he doesn’t think we play hard enough — and he was right. [Timberwolves coach Chris] Finch didn’t like that. He came in the next day and was like, ‘Man, you’ve got guys on the other team telling me that y’all don’t play hard enough for me.’ And he was totally right.

“We [were] out there just running around letting them do what they want to do. That’s a great team. All three of those guys, they’re great players, man. It’s going to be hard to beat these guys.”

For the Timberwolves, Edwards starred, but the team received well-rounded efforts from Towns (19 points, 7 rebounds), Gobert (14 points, 16 rebounds) and the bench, with Nickeil Alexander-Walker scoring 18 and Naz Reid adding 12 points.

Most impressively, the Timberwolves held decisive edges in rebounds (52 to 28), points in the paint (52 to 34) and second-chance points (20 to 6).

“Our focus and our urgency was obviously at an all-time high,” Gobert said. “I love how we respected the game plan all 48 minutes, from the first to the last. We tried to not let them get a hot start like they did the three other games and just do what we do.”

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