DimeMag

Anthony Edwards Announced His Arrival In The Postseason With A Performance To Remember

Rarely does the attacking pose for a basketball player happen at 45 degrees. Time and again in a comeback win over the Los Angeles Clippers to clinch the seventh seed in the Western Conference on Tuesday night, Anthony Edwards curled his shoulder toward the ground at an acute angle and got exactly where he wanted to go. That tucked-in posture and low center of gravity will be the lasting image of when Edwards dismantled the Clippers and arrived in the NBA, and a symbol of the flair with which Edwards can dominate for years to come.

Edwards’ style isn’t unique for the sake of being unique. It’s uniquely his and wielded to great success. Unsurprisingly, Edwards was a well-regarded running back in Pop Warner as a kid, and since his high school days, his physical presence has separated him from his peers. Nearly 40 percent of his shots have come at the rim as a pro, his relentlessness putting him in rarefied air, a throwback who feels transported from the early-2000s NBA of Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas rather than of this era.

Against the Clippers, his downhill dominance was a response to the defense. Los Angeles was not only switching everything in typical fashion, but devoting extra resources toward denying Karl-Anthony Towns the ball and double-teaming him when he got it. That often left him facing mismatches he’s more than comfortable exploiting, with bigger players like Marcus Morris Sr. or Isaiah Hartenstein put in situations where they would need to guard him in isolation.

Once Edwards’ first few jumpers went in, the Clippers needed to give respect to one of the only areas of the court that he doesn’t always own (he was basically a league-average three-point shooter this year). Edwards’ abnormally high release, another unorthodox physical quirk he brings to the basketball court, demands even more attention than a typical shooter’s. That led to lapses from the Clippers defenses, as even their best defenders bit on his pump fakes or miscommunicated switches. They suddenly feared his ability to score from anywhere but seemingly did not have a plan for what to take away. Edwards sensed that imbalance, leaned downward toward the ground, and took off, over and over.

To score 30 in a playoff debut is special, to do it as the featured piece against the reigning conference finalists is extraordinary. Edwards checked in at the 8:08 mark in the fourth quarter with Minnesota down eight. Towns fouled out 34 seconds later. From that point on, Edwards tallied 10 points, one assist and one steal, the driving force in a comeback win.

The two have always been great complements for one another, but anyone spelling out a possible Timberwolves win would have likely started with Towns, an understandable decision as he’s potentially on the verge of earning All-NBA honors for the second time in his career. He handled a higher usage rate than Edwards while also serving as a lead play-maker for the team. When Edwards has gone off this season, it’s been a pleasant boost for Minnesota but not always something the team has relied upon to win. That changed in an instant on the biggest stage, and Edwards responded.

Always confident, Edwards didn’t hesitate letting the world know about it. He joined in with Patrick Beverley in a euphoric postgame celebration, and told reporters postgame, “I took what the game gave me. They were scared to guard me, and I took advantage of that.”

Still, while Edwards has clearly absorbed the swagger of guys like Beverley and D’Angelo Russell and helped develop a new, more resilient identity in Minnesota, these things usually take time. Memphis will likely be ready to throw more defensive attention at Edwards in the next round and Towns will look to get back on track himself, but in one resounding moment, a thrilling young star most would have said would be a killer in tight spots had the chance to prove it — and did.

The most remarkable part of Edwards’ debut, however, may have been the small indications of what’s to come. As with many special athletes in the limelight for the first time, excellence was balanced out by mistakes. A turnover with about a minute left created an opening that Paul George seized with a deep three to make it a one-possession game again. Minutes will pass when Edwards struggles to impact the game when he is not involved as a scorer. And before any of the fireworks on Tuesday night, Edwards did only score one point in the first quarter.

To see it all play out that way and watch Edwards still triumph turned imaginations toward the future. Edwards became the fourth-youngest player to score 30 in an NBA playoff game (just ahead of Magic Johnson), and was far from his best. What was a muscular frame in the SEC is undeveloped by NBA standards. He will get stronger, more efficient in his movement, and less predictable.

As the first round goes on, Edwards has now ensured his development will be one of the biggest stories in the league. A matchup against the Grizzlies will mean a clash of young, athletic, building squads, but Memphis will be ready for Edwards now. And we should be, too.

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