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The hard lesson learned by virtually every NBA superstar from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James is that you need to take your lumps before you progress to the next level. A rough shooting night, a poor defensive performance, a failure to come through in clutch moments -- they're all par for the course for every player who eventually graduates to the echelon of all-time greats.

During Sunday night's Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets, emerging face of the league Anthony Edwards was well on his way to the latest example of those familiar superstar growing pains. He was shooting horrifically, unable to process Denver's constant double-teams and attempting to strike the proper balance between creating opportunities for his struggling teammates and taking it upon himself to get back into a game that was rapidly slipping from their grasp.

"It was tough, man, because I couldn't find myself, my rhythm tonight," Edwards said after the game. "So I just had to trust my teammates, man. They kept trapping me even though I was off, so I tried to make the right play."

It got to the point where Wolves coach Chris Finch sat Edwards for three crucial minutes of the second quarter, during which they cut the Nuggets' lead to seven points. In 20 first-half minutes, Edwards was a team-worst minus-14.

"I thought we were trying to play through Ant a lot and it was kind of bogging us down," Finch said after the game. "When we got him out in the second quarter, we got Kyle [Anderson] in there, that kind of loosened up the ball movement a little bit and we were able to get some other guys involved, just enough to feel the game."

Most 22-year-olds wouldn't take kindly to an extended bench stint during the biggest game of their career. Edwards almost certainly didn't either, but his ability to put his first-half difficulties behind him helped lead to a remarkable second half from both himself and the Minnesota Timberwolves, earning Edwards a double-boost in the process.

Not only did he take the postseason lumps we've learned are ultimately necessary for a player's growth, but he also led the Timberwolves to their first Western Conference finals appearance in 20 years with a stunning 98-90 road win over the defending champs. Along the way, the Wolves overcame the largest halftime deficit in any Game 7 in NBA history.

Edwards had plenty of his usual offensive exploits in the second half, including a couple of dunks and 12 of his 16 total points. But, in order to get back into a game that seemed destined to become a dreaded learning opportunity and nothing more, Edwards didn't start chucking up shots with every glance at the rim, or dribbling head-on into a sea of Nuggets defenders. No, Edwards decided to focus on defense.

"There's more ways to win a basketball game when you're just not an offensive player, man. I'm not one-dimensional, I'm not just a guy who can score," Edwards said after the win. "I'm a guy who can go, whoever their best guard is, I can go lock him down. So I feel like I did that on Jamal [Murray] in the third quarter and fourth quarter, and that's what turned the game around."

Edwards has never been shy about touting his own abilities, but he's dead on with this particular bit of braggadocio. Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was in the midst of another legendary playoff performance -- 24 points in the first half alone on 8-for-15 shooting -- until things flipped violently in the second half, when he scored 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting, including 1-of-7 from 3-point range. The Wolves' defense is so good that you can never pin its success on one individual, but the pride Edwards took in slowing down Murray in the second half showed maturity and leadership well beyond his 22 years.

Draping himself on Murray like an old turtleneck that fits a little too snugly, Edwards gave the Nuggets guard nightmarish flashbacks to Games 2 and 6 of the series, when it took 90% of his energy to even get the ball up the floor against Minnesota's pressure, strength, quickness and length. When Edwards bullied Murray backwards until he was nearly at halfcourt at the end of the third quarter, then pickpocketed him and soared in for a dunk that Denver's lead to two points, it started to feel like the Wolves' comeback could be for real.

Finch told his team after the game that the Nuggets' "tongues were on the ground" because of how much they had worn them down, and Edwards had everything to do with it -- not just in Game 7, but throughout the series.

Most people will remember his dagger 3-pointer from the corner with just over three minutes left in Game 7, after which he talked his uniquely consistent brand of trash to any Nuggets fan within earshot. But the only reason Edwards got the look is because of the harassing defense he played seconds before, preoccupying Murray to the point that he failed to detect Wolves vet Mike Conley rushing over to pilfer the ball from him yet again.

Even in the second half, Edwards didn't shoot well. He was 5-for-17 in the final two quarters, and 6 of 24 for the game. But despite his struggles, he was a team-high plus-25 in the second half, a testament to how much his defense and creation for teammates impacted the game.

For Edwards to make this kind of adjustment mid-game -- to not only realize that his team needed to improve defensively to avoid elimination, but to also go out there and do it -- is the stuff true superstars are made of. Usually it takes a devastating loss for young players to figure that out, but Edwards is doing it on the fly while his team continues to win. And, with Minnesota set to open the conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, he's given us no reason to believe that the winning will stop any time soon.