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Anthony Edwards takes his play to another level in the playoffs. But what would that look like in Timberwolves-Suns series?

The NBA’s pre-playoff ad campaign features a number of players discussing whether there’s a “playoff” version of themselves.

Playoff Tatum?

Playoff Shai?

Playoff Brunson?

The list goes on.

In the ads, everyone suggests not. But ask Timberwolves fans that same question about 22-year-old star guard Anthony Edwards and the response would be a resounding “Yes.”

Edwards is now widely known as a big game hunter who seeks out and shines in the most prominent moments against the highest-profile foes.

There is no stage bigger and brighter than the NBA playoffs, and that’s where — through two career playoff series — Edwards has been at his very best.

Edwards averaged 25 points while shooting 40% from distance in 2022 against Memphis. A year ago against eventual champion Denver, Edwards kept a shorthanded squad competitive by lighting up the Nuggets to the tune of 31.2 points, 5.2 assists and five boards per game.

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch has often said the guard understands the moment. In the upcoming first-round series against Phoenix, it’s just as important for Edwards to understand the assignment.

Edwards averaged just 14.3 points in three meetings against Phoenix this season — the fewest he scored against any Western Conference opponent. The Suns held Edwards to abysmal shooting percentages: 31% from the field and 27% from 3-point range. And they did so without possessing a truly elite perimeter defender.

How?

“They put three on the ball, basically, every time. Two on the ball, three on the ball,” Finch said. “They were committed, obviously, to not let him get downhill.”

And given the success it had with the approach, it’s unlikely Phoenix changes course when Game 1 tips on Saturday.

Does Edwards need more shots than the seven he had in Sunday’s defeat? Of course. But Minnesota also needs fewer than the five turnovers he committed out of the team’s 24.

“Yeah, it’s just us making mistakes, making the pass one beat later, one beat too late,” Edwards said. “Me playing in crowds. They putting three people on me, so I just got to make the right reads, trust my teammates, and when some of my teammates hit those shots, they gonna have to eventually get out of it.”

That’s the plan. The balance between being aggressive and making the right play is often a fine line for star players to walk. Edwards has spent the last couple of years figuring out exactly where that line is.

Over the past month-plus, Edwards took a massive leap in that department, properly diagnosing when to get off the ball and when to attack.

“Ant has been really good all year about making the right read, the right play. They’re forcing him to make that and we have to give him help by taking advantage of it, to take care of it, make shots, make them pay for putting two, three guys on him,” Wolves guard Mike Conley said. “I think it’ll open it up for him.”

That’s what happened over the last month-plus, as Edwards would get off the ball, the Wolves would play beautiful offense centered on ball and player movement and the guard would find himself in second-side actions with an opportunity to go at non-set defenses.

But there’s making the right play in the regular season, and there’s making the right play when those lights he often shines under are beating down upon you.

While playoff pressure often turns Edwards into a diamond, it also can cause players to fall into familiar habits. For Edwards, that could be to try to take a game over himself. While that’s worked in past playoff appearances, it likely won’t against a Phoenix defense that’s specifically stacked up to stop him.

That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t shoot and score. Minnesota needs him to do plenty of both to win the series. But the manner in which the buckets occur can’t be as simple as dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, score.

“He’s gotta be aggressive in other ways, too. He’s gotta get a little bit more in transition, gotta play in space, move himself a little bit more and pick his spots in pick and roll to still be aggressive,” Finch said. “But being aggressive you still gotta commit the defense and then make the right play. But yeah, I’m confident we can get him going.”

And the Wolves are confident Edwards can get himself going, as he usually does. It just may require a patient initial approach before the guard officially enters any sort of takeover mode.

“When I see the lanes and the space, I got to go — and it may not be a lot, but when I see it, I got to take it, take advantage of it, because I haven’t been doing that in the last few matchups,” Edwards said. “I’ve just been playing into their hands, getting off of it every time.”

That’s too far the other way. The line is ever-shifting. Edwards must again prove he can successfully walk it.

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