Nov. 25—The first thing Patrick Beverley did when he joined the Timberwolves was establish every player’s role on the team.
How? By asking them, face to face, in front of everyone, including head coach Chris Finch.
“What’s your role?” Beverley asked each player.
“It was beautiful,” Anthony Edwards recalled.
What better way to create accountability and assure each player understands the respective responsibilities he must fulfill to help the team win.
So what was Edwards’ response? He wouldn’t say Wednesday evening. He doesn’t want to disclose it and have opposing teams try to take him out of it.
But he did say this much:
“My role is what I did tonight, for sure,” Edwards said following the Timberwolves’ 113-101 win over Miami at Target Center.
What he did was, well, everything.
THIS WOULD’VE BEEN THE DUNK OF THE YEAR pic.twitter.com/0w9C6vW29x
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 25, 2021
He scored 33 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out six assists. He delivered the dunk of the year (only to have it waived off by a questionable charge call) hit all the key shots in the key moments, defended hard and was the one who stood up to Miami’s big, bad, (former) wolf.
At just 20 years old, Edwards rose to the team’s biggest occasion to date, leading in every possible way, igniting an audience that seems to be buying into this team.
Because Anthony Edwards re-instills belief.
“He was electric. He’s an electric player,” Finch said. “Absolutely has had a great sense of timing in his entire young career since I’ve been here. A lot of it was defensively, too. He had a couple big steals. Gets out in transition, creates a couple shots for his teammates. And then he’s not afraid of the moment or the big shot.”
In fact, he lives for it.
Malik Beasley described Wednesday as “the biggest game of the year” to date. The Wolves entered the contest as winners of four straight, all coming in convincing fashion. But only one of those came over a playoff contender.
Wednesday provided a chance to cement themselves as a team to be reckoned with. Not only is Miami (12-7) an Eastern Conference title contender, but it’s a physical, veteran team — the type of opponent that’s given Minnesota fits in the past.
That looked like it’d again be the case Wednesday. Karl-Anthony Towns picked up three fouls in the first five minutes, which shelved him for the rest of the first half. Beverley left the game early with a groin injury, and did not return.
The train, it appeared at many times, was heading off the tracks.
Then Edwards would veer it back onto course.
In Minnesota’s recent blowout victories, Edwards was happy to take a backseat. He took just 21 shots combined in dominant wins over Memphis and San Antonio, choosing to let others find their flow.
But Edwards knew it was his time to carry the load Wednesday. Every time the Wolves (9-9) would be in a seemingly dire situation, their primetime performer would rise to the occasion. He was the leg that kept the chair from folding.
“In them moments, I ain’t got no choice,” Edwards said. “I was just trying to stay as close as possible until big fella (Towns) came back. It’s hard for them to guard us when he on the floor. So I’m just trying to stay in the game, stay in the game, stay in the game until he comes back.”
Edwards finished with 17 first-half points to keep Minnesota within eight.
With Towns back on the floor, Minnesota surged back into the game in the third quarter. The Wolves were up by two points late in the frame when Edwards committed a traveling violation.
Jimmy Butler, the most recent villain of this franchise after he forced his way out of Minnesota, heard it from the fans every time he touched the ball Wednesday. He got in a few verbal back and forths with fans in the first few rows and seemed to grow frustrated as the game played out.
Butler was guarding Edwards when the young guard traveled. Butler then ripped the ball out of Edwards’ hands. This is the moment when past Wolves’ teams would cower into the corner, giving Butler power over them.
That’s not exactly in Edwards’ DNA. He pushed Butler, leading Butler to get into his face. The minor altercation was brief, and both players received technical fouls, but a message was sent: The leader of this pack will not back down.
“Him taking the ball out my hands, I was like c’mon bruh. You ain’t that serious. The ball’s going to get there. Y’all got the ball,” Edwards said. “I felt like I had to let him know just chill. …. He ain’t finna fight nobody out there. All that walking up on each other, that’s stuff for the birds, man. I ain’t about to fight. I don’t get into all that. That (stuff is) fake.”
And Edwards is for real.
After both were quiet through the first three quarters, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell joined Edwards at the table in the final frame. Towns had an off shooting night, but his late-game interior defense on Bam Adebayo went a long way toward Minnesota finishing the Heat off, as did Russell’s 10 fourth-quarter points.
Yet Russell quickly brushed aside a postgame question about him potentially sensing an opportunity to take over the game in the fourth. This moment wasn’t his.
“We’ve got a guy on our team named Anthony Edwards and he took over the game. Simple as that. He took over the game,” Russell said. “He was guarding, he was moving, he was boxing (out), he was rebounding. I think we’re watching him grow in front of us, just all around.”
Wednesday certainly was a team win. Russell noted that, as well. Malik Beasley played 38 minutes in Beverley’s absence, and scored a season-high 29 points on the strength of five triples. Jarred Vanderbilt grabbed 15 rebounds and four steals in 25 minutes.
Everyone played their role. Edwards starred in his.
“He got us over the hump,” Russell said. “Team defense, everybody showed up and played their part, but he did it tonight.”
In every possible way. Fourteen rebounds against one of the league’s most physical teams was a statement.
“I took it upon myself, ‘Hey young fella you gotta go in there and bang up a little bit,'” Edwards said. “Doing anything to win. I want to keep this streak going as much as possible.”
Target Center was rowdy and raucous Wednesday, just the way Edwards likes it. The house was packed with a pre-Thanksgiving crowd eager to cheer on the Wolves for their recent success and boo Butler.
But the pain of Butler’s departure is quickly fading for Wolves fans now that they have their new superstar in tow.
As the closing seconds ticked off Wednesday, Butler trudged off the court in defeat while Edwards, sporting his signature smile, soaked in the moment with the Wolves’ starving fan base.
Out with the old, in with the new.
The crowd showered Edwards with “MVP” chants as he implored them to pump up the volume. The two-way love affair between spectators and superstar continues to blossom at Target Center.
“WOLVES BACK, BABY” pic.twitter.com/sbAGGMA1qo
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 25, 2021
At the conclusion of the stunning show he put on Wednesday, as Edwards made his way out of the Target Center tunnel, he looked up at the euphoric fan base, pointed to the “Minnesota” on the front of his jersey and repeatedly shouted “Wolves back! Wolves back!”
Perhaps, finally, this is the group to return the franchise to respectability, and beyond.
“We da ones Jack,” Edwards said in his postgame television interview.
Quite possibly. Wednesday’s result suggested as much. But it also provided further evidence for another potential coronation.
Butler was the last player to lead this downtrodden franchise to the playoffs. Who’s next? By now, everyone has a good idea of who that role belongs to.
You da one, Ant.