Edwards is brightest star as Wolves beat Denver in Game 1

DENVER – Anthony Edwards shared the floor Saturday night with Nikola Jokic, the two-time NBA MVP who is favored to win his third.

He was in Jokic's Ball Arena, and his Timberwolves were going against the defending champions, the standard of late-game composure and execution that these Wolves could only dream about reaching a season ago.

But in a 106-99 Wolves victory to open their second-round Western Conference playoff series, Edwards and the Wolves stole the Joker's thunder. "Ant" was the best player on the floor, and his team outdueled the vaunted Nuggets in the clutch moments.

"He's a superstar in the making, if he's not now," center Naz Reid said.

Edwards again put on a show for all to enjoy as his stardom continued its ascension with a playoff career-high 43 points, which included 25 of only 40 first-half Wolves points. He sank multiple dagger midrange, fadeaway jumpers in the final minutes to finish 17-for-29 with seven rebounds and three assists.

"It's tough to beat this team," Edwards said. "We come in, and we know it's going to be a war. And we just stay within the game. We play within the game. They make runs, we know we've got to make our runs. We just fight, man. It's going to be a fight."

Jokic finished with a typically robust stat line — 32 points, nine rebounds, eight assists — but the Wolves defense was able to fluster him just enough in the final minutes to grab control of the game.

Reid forced Jokic, who finished with seven turnovers, to travel in the backcourt with just under eight minutes to play to set up a Wolves run. Then with the Wolves ahead 96-91 with less than three minutes left, Rudy Gobert read a lob Jokic was attempting to throw to Aaron Gordon, and Gobert came away with the steal. He also provided tough defense during a late possession that forced a Jokic miss at the rim.

"Jokic is a very, very smart player, but I think I'm a very smart defender, too," Gobert said. "Sometimes you're going to win some of these, sometimes I'm going to win some of them, and just always try to stay a step ahead in those situations."

The Wolves also limited Denver guard Jamal Murray, who came in questionable because of a calf injury, to 17 points on 6-for-14. But even with their strong defensive effort, the Wolves likely would have lost Saturday's game in their series a season ago against Denver because of late-game execution. Game 1 was a full-throated announcement from the Wolves that they are a different team and the Nuggets are likely in for an intense battle if they want to retain their crown.

Edwards is coming for it.

"Going against the best player in the world is always fun, and going against the best team in the world is always fun," Edwards said. "They're not going to beat themselves, and I feel like our coaching staff did a great job of game-planning throughout the three or four days they had, and our guys came out and competed tonight."

About that coaching staff: Head coach Chris Finch, coming off right patellar tendon surgery, was seated just behind the bench while assistant Micah Nori patrolled the sidelines. The two in tandem helped make the calls down the stretch that resulted in a Wolves win.

They also helped wake the Wolves up after Edwards was the only thing the Wolves had going on offense in the first half. Edwards was 10-for-17 while the rest of the team was 6-for-27 at the break, and the Wolves trailed 44-40 after starting the game ahead 18-4.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Mike Conley resuscitated the offense in the third quarter with 11 points apiece. The Wolves shot 71% in the second half after going 36% in the first.

"Ant was shooting all the balls in the first half, so it was hard to get into a rhythm," Conley joked. "I'm comfortable waiting until the second half. I've done that a lot throughout my career. I've done that a lot this season. I know the guys trust me to be aggressive."

BOXSCORE: Wolves 106, Denver 99

Edwards also had help during the fourth quarter, when Reid announced his arrival to the series. He looked out of sorts in the first half with zero points and two turnovers. But when he banked in a late-shot-clock three with 5:56 to play, it seemed to unlock something inside him. He then had a monster put-back dunk and buried another three as part of a 14-point fourth quarter. He finished with 16 points.

"There's a lot of growth in Naz, man," Edwards said. "He didn't check out of the game. He wasn't worried about his makes or misses. He just kept playing."

Edwards also got help offensively from Gobert, who had a pair of buckets. But it was Edwards who provided the haymakers: multiple fadeaway jumpers, the kind that takes the breath away from an opposing crowd. That whooshing sound was audible in Phoenix when Edwards did this, and it was audible in Denver when Edwards did it again, such as when he backed down Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the left side and nailed a 14-footer to put the Wolves up 11 with 1:36 to play.

A dagger, and first blood in the series.

Like Kevin Durant in the Suns series, Jokic couldn't help but marvel at his primary foe.

"I have a huge respect for him," Jokic said. "He can do everything on the floor. You need to enjoy and respect your opponent, just how good and talented he is."