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The NBA conference finals and the arrival of Anthony 'Ant-Man' Edwards

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. This year's NBA Conference finals have a little bit of everything - a storied franchise like the Boston Celtics looking impressive. They defeated the Indiana Pacers last night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. And we have new faces taking the league by storm, like the Minnesota Timberwolves' Anthony Edwards and Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic. They're meeting tonight for the first game in the Western finals. Tyler Tynes is a sports culture critic covering the NBA and joins us now. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

TYLER TYNES: Thanks for having me back. What's good?

CHANG: (Laughter) Everything's good now that you're here. So of the four teams remaining, who has the most compelling storyline and path to this point?

TYNES: Well, right now it seems like a lot of us love Anthony Edwards, you know, a nice, young buck out of the Minnesota Timberwolves for a franchise that hasn't won a lot in the last two decades, right? To see a new team with all the talk of small markets being able to make championship contenders - here's a natural born player out of Atlanta, Ga., who talks that talk and walks that walk and has got a knee shot (ph) to back it up.

CHANG: (Laughter).

TYNES: And to think he's got the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference finals against a real team that's won championships like the Dallas Mavericks with veteran players like Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic. It's going to be a great game.

CHANG: Can we talk more about Anthony Edwards on the Timberwolves? I hear he's called Ant-Man. Did I get that right?

TYNES: That's what some folk call him.

CHANG: (Laughter). So describe, like, how incredibly impactful he has been to this team.

TYNES: Anthony Edwards is really the heart and soul of what the Minnesota Timberwolves have been aspiring to do as a basketball franchise for the last 20 years, from Kevin Garnett, who brought a new tenacity to Minnesota they had never seen before, to now with Anthony Edwards, there is some cultural innovation behind these guys. They sound like the NBA that we knew growing up, and it sounds like the NBA that we've longed for right now in this era with a little bit too much internet talking and not enough basketball to go around. And so - and is as authentic as they come, and he's not backing down from anybody, as we've seen on his really fiery walk towards the biggest stage of his career.

CHANG: Oh, that's pretty cool. OK, so if the Timberwolves are the most compelling team up to this point, what are the expectations for the three other teams?

TYNES: For the Boston Celtics, they have a veteran group with, you know, a core franchise that's really a part of the history of the NBA. But a lot of their young stars have fallen short many years and time after time again. We've already seen in Game 1 that they went to overtime with the Indiana Pacers, with a young core, with Tyrese Haliburton and Andrew Nembhard. And so we didn't expect them to be here. So just that they are here is pretty good for them. For the Dallas Mavericks, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving - Kyrie Irving has said this is the hardest stretch he's ever had to play going through the playoffs, and Luka has never been in a game of this magnitude. So to see this duo, which was the hottest team in the NBA going down the stretch, make it this far, it's really impressive.

CHANG: Well, as we mentioned, Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves are facing the Dallas Mavericks tonight. Who do you think has the advantage in that series?

TYNES: You know, it's tough. Again, the Dallas Mavericks have been here before. They've been underdogs. They've won championships over the biggest and brightest stars in NBA history, namely LeBron James 10, 13 years ago. So it's not like they don't know how to do this, but they've got a new core - Luka Doncic, who's one of their younger European players, and Kyrie Irving, one of the most embattled stars in recent NBA history. And so there's a lot of talent on that team. And the Minnesota Timberwolves have a few young stars, so we'll see who's going to be a little bit better. I think it can go either way.

CHANG: Oh, OK. Well, between the Celtics and Pacers, who do you have making it to the NBA finals from the East?

TYNES: Well, you know I'm Philadelphia born and bred, so I can't tell you I'm rooting for anybody from Boston.

CHANG: (Laughter).

TYNES: I think Boston are certainly the favorites for the Eastern Conference finals with this young core that's really tauted (ph) and really talented. If they're going to do it, this would be the year.

CHANG: So I keep hearing that there's this new guard era in the NBA. You've talked a little bit about that. But tell us more about, like, what that means - a new guard era. Is that how you actually see it?

TYNES: For sure. I think every generation of the NBA spawns an iteration of player, and we see which ones are the most popular. This is America, after all. We like our highlights and our dunks, compare it to the European invasion that's happening to our sport. But the thing that really makes us stand up, besides the big dunks, are the guards. And every 10 years or so, we get a good crop of guards that leads these teams to the deep runs of the playoffs. And right now you're seeing Tyrese Haliburton in Indiana, a point guard, Anthony Edwards, a two guard, all of these guys who are leading their teams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was an MVP candidate out of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the youngest team in the playoffs this year. All of these guys are ball-handlers. All these guys are leading their teams. All of these guys are the tone-setters and attitude behind winning basketball franchises. And so if you want to lead an NBA team, maybe you should handle the ball.

CHANG: Tyler Tynes is a sports culture critic covering the NBA. Thank you so much for joining us again.

TYNES: Appreciate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOS DEF SONG, "UMI SAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
William Troop
William Troop is a supervising editor at All Things Considered. He works closely with everyone on the ATC team to plan, produce and edit shows 7 days a week. During his 30+ years in public radio, he has worked at NPR, at member station WAMU in Washington, and at The World, the international news program produced at station GBH in Boston. Troop was born in Mexico, to Mexican and Nicaraguan parents. He spent most of his childhood in Italy, where he picked up a passion for soccer that he still nurtures today. He speaks Spanish and Italian fluently, and is always curious to learn just how interconnected we all are.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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