Karl-Anthony Towns told his father, Karl Sr., that everyone will get their moment at Madison Square Garden. The big man definitely had one Tuesday evening.
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch, one behind with the ball and playing 45 seconds, called “34”, putting Towns in the middle of the court.
“Launch 34,” Finch said to the crowd. – Take us home.
The Wolves were going to let their star center work. Townes knew he was going to attack the upright. He smiled as soon as Finch called.
No problem, Coach, Towns thought. “I got you.”
Towns knew the end result before it happened – he was going to score.
“I knew this was happening. I felt pretty good,” Towns said. “I felt very confident getting the ball with that kind of time. Caught the ball, looked around, hoping Julius (Randle) would let his guard down a little. Found a loophole that I wanted to exploit. I wanted to switch to the left hand and just made a good move. There was nothing special about it. It was great defense. It’s just better Oh.”
Bucket and foul. The ensuing free throw put Minnesota out by two, and the Wolves held on for a much-needed 112–110 road victory over a playoff-level contender.
The fact that he appeared in New York made him even more special. Towns is a product from New Jersey. The event was attended by many friends and family members. Playing in the garden had always been his late mother Jackie’s favorite play. Towns saluted her by pointing to the sky after his first free throw of the night.
“That was the most important moment I had at MSG,” Towns said. “Great crowd, great vibe, great energy, and I silenced everyone, so that made it even better.”
The patience that Towns has shown in the line play has marked a significant rise in the center, whom he has called “fiery” and others may sometimes call “out of sorts” at important moments. But on Tuesday he was cool, calm and collected with the ball in his hands.
“My teammates trusted me to play this game,” he said. “I had to justify this trust. The only way I know of to do this is to clog this bucket.”
And earn this victory.
The Timberwolves continue to talk like a team about to rise in the Western Conference standings. They pointed out again and again that they were right there. That they just needed to get better and tighten up a few things and then they would be ready to make their move. Finally, on Tuesday, they may have started climbing.
Because winding up a win streak often involves tough, rigorous competition, including a few on the road against at least quality opponents. Minnesota has had several of these this season, but not enough. He got another one in New York.
It was only fitting that a key move of the game involved a foul challenge, because they were coming in in droves. There were 55 fouls and 71 free throw attempts.
Julius Randle missed a freebie on the other end of the subsequent possession to New York (22-23) and Patrick Beverley returned the favor on the other end. Thus, Minnesota had a 112–110 lead with the Knicks in possession in the final game.
Minnesota shut down Evan Fournier on the first shot attempt — one of many strong defensive possessions in the past few minutes — but the rebound came on a wide-open Alec Burks, who was behind the arc with hopes of winning the game on the Rogue. Townes’ first thought at that moment was not good – he had seen too many times how the “wolves” suffer crushing defeats in this place.
But it wasn’t one of them, as the shot clanged against the iron, sealing the victory for the Wolves.
“It would be a tragedy if that happened and that’s how we’re going to lose,” Towns said. “I just feel like we deserve it. I think we played very well in the fourth. We gave ourselves a chance. People are making great progress. It’s one of those things where you feel like the gods of basketball should reward you somewhere in the middle. I’m happy it was the one they awarded us. I’ll take it any day of the week.”
Minnesota (22–22) dominated the first half of the game and led 61–51 at halftime. But a crash in the third quarter, in which the Wolves lost 40 points, left Minnesota five points behind before the final frame. To the credit of the Wolves, they turned the tide to level the tide. This was largely due to Jaylen Nowell, who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter.
“We used to find ways to lose those games,” Nowell said, “and come up with excuses for why we lost those games.”
Not Tuesday. Perhaps this was the first step for the Wolves on their way to the top six and entering the playoffs.
“There is no real plan to close games other than defense, rebounding and execution,” Finch said. “We did a really good job with security. We hit the ball very well on the stretch. We matched their physics and made enough games to do that. Whether it’s a key bucket or mostly key stops, that’s how you need to close the game.”