Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns made a bold statement after his team’s 112-103 loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday night, claiming that he had to elevate his game and carry the struggling squad as its best player. Yet his comments were not necessarily inspiring for the future of the Wolves. While it’s not bad to see a second-year star welcome responsibility, it’s also not terrific if a developing 21-year-old feels so much pressure 17 games into the season. Would poor performances or more losses become too much to bear?
Towns showed on Wednesday that he can at least respond to that pressure with a monster performance of his own at home against the New York Knicks. The reigning Rookie of the Year shattered his previous career high of 35 points with 47 on 15-of-22 shooting from the field and 17-of-20 from the line. Towns dominated from the opening tip, making all eight of his attempts in the first quarter for 22 points. He added 18 rebounds and three blocks in 42 minutes, often trading buckets with fellow second-year star Kristaps Porzingis and playing in a way that only a few others in the league could hope to match.
It just wasn’t enough to get Minnesota a much-needed win. With 2.3 seconds remaining in regulation, Carmelo Anthony nailed this mid-range jumper to break a tie and put the Knicks up two:
After a Wolves timeout, Melo then deflected Zach LaVine’s inbound pass for a game-ending steal:
New York’s 106-104 win defied the momentum of the fourth quarter. Down 58-49 at half, Minnesota avoided another in a historic run of terrible third quarters by cutting the lead by two. That minor success looked irrelevant when the Knicks opened the final period on an 18-8 run that stretched the score to 99-82 with only 7:41 on the clock, but the Wolves fought back to tie the score at 102-102 on a second-chance LaVine three inside the final minute.
They just couldn’t close it out. A Knicks miss on the following possession appeared to put the Wolves in a strong position to take the lead, but Porzingis ripped the rebound out of the hands of Gorgui Dieng and quickly dunked to make it 104-102 at the 0:36 mark. Towns followed with two free throws to tie it up again, but Melo’s jumper and LaVine’s inability to inbound ended everything on bad terms. Despite the valiant comeback, the circumstances of the loss made this result a disappointment for a Minnesota team looking for signs of progress.
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It’s a shame, too, because KAT’s performance ranks as one of the best of any big man in recent NBA history. It’s rare enough for a player so young to score 47 points:
Karl-Anthony Towns w/ 47 points at 21 years, 15 days. Since 1964, only 3 younger players have scored 47+: LeBron (2x), Durant, B. Jennings
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) December 1, 2016
And only eight other players have managed to put up that many points with 18 boards:
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) December 1, 2016
Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough help. Andrew Wiggins added 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting in a decent all-around game, but Minnesota’s bench offered only five points on 2-of-11 from the field. The defense was iffy, as well, with the Knicks often getting open looks despite merely average ball movement. Porzingis was a handful late, as well, scoring 10 of his team-high 29 points (11-of-20 FG) in the fourth quarter:
The Wolves will have a chance to make amends on Friday, when they face the Knicks again at Madison Square Garden. They probably won’t be able to count on a similar night from Towns in that one, but that’s fine. The issues with this team clearly go beyond what any one player can handle.
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