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How the Suns look to find success in slowing down Anthony Edwards in Game 2

© Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Guarding Anthony Edwards was no question the Suns’ biggest problem in their 120-95 loss in Game 1 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.

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Edwards finished with a game-high 33 points, shooting 14-of-24 (58.3%) overall, and had nine rebounds, six assists and two steals for the T-Wolves.

18 of Edwards’ points came in the third quarter, as he shot 8-of-11 from the floor in the period. The Suns had cut a double-digit deficit down to as little as four at the beginning of the quarter before Edwards took over. The end of the quarter concluded with an exchange between Edwards and Kevin Durant.

Edwards, who averaged 25.9 points per game this season on 46.1% shooting, only averaged 14.3 points on 31% shooting in the three games against the Suns in the regular season. 

The Suns had limited Edwards by not allowing him any driving room at all. The Suns have emphasized a “gap integrity” type of approach when guarding Edwards and a lot of star players.

This means the Suns play a tight shell around Edwards, as defenders play in between their man and the ball if Edwards has it, not allowing him to drive. The Suns have proven really successful in this approach against several teams this season if their communication is on point. Phoenix has also not used one primary defender on Edwards in all three of the previous matchups, but rather shown him several different looks.

During Saturday’s game, the Suns allowed Edwards too much room on some possessions, and he also got going in transition for a lot of his early buckets, which upped his confidence for whatever defense Phoenix threw at him.

What Went Wrong When Guarding Edwards

So what exactly went wrong for the Suns in Game 1 when defending Edwards? Here’s what Phoenix had to say about him postgame Saturday.

Coach Frank Vogel postgame: “(Edwards) is a great player, you try to do the best you can to slow him down without being exposed on the backside all night. But there’s things we can do better that we showed throughout the regular season that we didn’t do well enough tonight. And we’ll make those adjustments and be ready for Game 2.”

Durant on Edwards’ third-quarter outburst: “I just think they put the ball in his hands and let him dribble up the court. A lot of time Mike Conley is handling the ball. So you let him dribble the ball up the court, he got his rhythm, he was able to hit a few. You see a couple of tough ones go in, now he got confidence. He always had confidence as a player, but when you see a few tough ones go in, I think he hit that fade over me he was falling away. And then he hit two more 3s over over contest. It’s a make or miss league, you got to knock down shots if you want to win.”

Bradley Beal postgame: “I think it was in the third honestly, I think that’s really when he got going. I think we did a really good job of just containing him and just making him take tough shots early on, and then I think he was just way too comfortable in the third. He got a lot of open looks, was able to get to the basket and they just kind of opened up Pandora’s Box from there. You can’t let a superstar get going off two shots you know, it’s over with from there. You’re trying to stop a hot man at that point.”

What Adjustments will the Suns Make in Game 2 on Edwards

The Suns will obviously not reveal all of the adjustments they will make on Edwards, but did give a little insight into what they could do differently postgame and in practice yesterday.

Vogel: “You just got to read the game and see how he’s playing it. But, certain players get into a zone, you have to shut their water off. And, it requires certain double teams. But, we’ve had a lot of discussions about that. I’m not gonna give the Timberwolves our plan, but it’s always a balance … (He’s) got to see five defenders.”

Devin Booker: “I think it takes a collective group, special players take more than just who’s guarding them to defend them. It takes a team behind them and building a shell behind them to where it gives you confidence to be able to pressure the ball when you know you have a defense behind you.”

Booker on guarding Edwards when he’s playmaking: “I think that comes with the double teams. I think double teams put you in rotation, but if you have somebody that can be physical on the ball and force the shots inside the paint, instead of rhythm jump shots, and then once he had it going, he had it going.”

Beal: “We have to be better collectively accepting that challenge because he attacked everybody, so we all have to be ready for that challenge and making sure that we’re in a stance ready to go and force him to make a lot of tough shots. He’s gonna make some, but you got to tire him out, make him work for them.”

A Look Back at What the Suns Said before the Series on Edwards

Edwards was inevitably going to have a game like this in this series because of how bottled up he had been against Phoenix and how good of a player he is.

The Suns reflected on their success on him before the series, which is interesting to look back on after his Game 1 performance:

Grayson Allen: “I think all four guys off the ball that aren’t guarding him, have done a great job of being active in the games we’ve played him. (The off-ball defenders are) showing presence to discourage the drive or muck it up a little bit, get hands in there and deflections, and then they have good shooters too, so still having the urgency to get out to guys and not give up the open 3s are big when you have a guy like that puts pressure in the paint.”

Royce O’Neale: “I feel like (we did a good job of) making things tough for him, try to beat him to spots. Make him take tough shots. On defense, I think we play together as a team, connected, talking. On offense, we just had the ball moving, and guy’s made good shots.”

More from O’Neale on Edwards’ ability to make tough shots: “Just making things uncomfortable for him. He’s a great player. He wants to get to his spot, so we just got to make it hard on him. contest every shot, make things tough for him and play our game.”

Booker on matching up against Anthony Edwards and if it means anything more to him: “It’s the playoffs. It’s just Minnesota versus Phoenix right now. I’d say Ant’s not up-and-coming anymore, he’s somebody that’s here, somebody that had a hell of a season this year, led his team to a top seed in the West. It’s a tough matchup, and it’s going to take a collective whole to slow him down and just try to make him as inefficient as possible.”

Vogel: “I think we all understand the threat that (Edwards) carries, what kind of player he is, but it’s not just about Ant. The gaps are about whoever has the ball. If KAT (Karl Anthony-Towns) or Naz (Reid) or (Mike) Conley or any of those guys are looking to attack the paint, we want to have a heavy gap presence. When the ball moves, we want to fire out of that and contest 3s or prevent 3s. So it’s just part of being a connected, multiple-effort defense. Hopefully, we’re much stronger with those habits today than we were at the beginning of the season.”

Realistically, the Suns have to show either in Game 2 or 3 that their regular-season dominance was not a fluke. A big reason for that was how they played against Edwards, so we will see what kind of adjustments they make to get back to that kind of success.

As everyone mentioned and as everyone knows in playoff basketball, you can’t let the other team’s best player get rolling, especially at home in the playoffs, or it can quickly turn into outburst like saw Saturday. The Suns can do this with strong communication and not letting Edwards get an easy looks even in transition.

Game 2 tips off at 4:30 p.m. MST today from Target Center.

Anthony Edwards calls exchange with Kevin Durant ‘one of the best feelings ever’

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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