Karl-Anthony Towns wanted to win so badly Sunday night. Of course, the all-star center wants to win every night, but added motivation existed at Madison Square Garden. It had nothing to do with trying to score a win against former coach Tom Thibodeau — now the Knicks’ bench boss — and everything to do with the location.
Sunday marked Towns’ first game playing back “home” — in New York — after a tragedy-filled year in which Towns lost one family member after another, starting with his mom, to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After everything I’ve been through, I (for) sure wanted this win badly,” Towns said.
He played like it in the fourth quarter, delivering his best frame of the season. Towns played all 12 minutes of the final frame, tallying 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
With 3 minutes to play and the Wolves trailing by one, Towns stuffed R.J. Barrett at the rim, grabbed the rebound, ran down to the other end of the floor and hit a turnaround jumper to give Minnesota its first lead since the first quarter after trailing by 21 at one point late in the third quarter.
Towns scored just one fewer point in the fourth than the Knicks did as a team. He played an entire quarter for the first time this season since returning from his bout with COVID-19.
“I told (Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders), you leave me in there as long as you need me to get this win and I felt good,” Towns said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get this win.”
But, as has been the case often this season, it wasn’t enough.
The Knicks withstood Towns’ surge with a couple late scoring possessions to hold off Minnesota 103-99 in New York.
“He gave us a lot, and that’s what we need on a nightly basis,” Saunders said of Towns. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do it for the whole game as a collective group, and it’s tough to win in this league when that happens.”
Prior to that fourth quarter, the Wolves looked largely stagnant. New York manhandled them with its physicality and suffocating defense — staples of Thibodeau-coached teams (the Wolves withstanding) — that has propelled the Knicks (15-16) all season.
Towns finished with 27 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Ricky Rubio added 18 points and six dimes. But no other Wolves player finished with more than 12 points. Edwards scored 12, but went just 3 for 11 from the field. Malik Beasley, consistently one of Minnesota’s top-two scorers this season, had just six points on six shot attempts.
Asked why he was so quiet offensively, Beasley said the Knicks “gave good pressure and good defense, but I don’t know what to tell you.”
Minnesota (7-24) scored just one point over the final 1 minute, 40 seconds Sunday, which suggests the late game struggles continued. But Saunders liked a few of the looks the Wolves generated. Jaden McDaniels missed an open corner triple — a shot he has made many times this season.
With 25 seconds to play, Towns got a decent look on the block — against former teammate Taj Gibson — that would’ve given Minnesota the lead again. But somehow it didn’t fall.
“KAT is a big full of tricks. I got lucky,” Gibson said. “I’ve been able to watch film and be around him for a couple of years, so I knew what he wanted to do. I got a lucky bounce. Just tried to make it tough. Shots like that you’re going to try to take away his strong suit, but he got a good look on it.”
Thus, it was another loss for Minnesota — though not for a lack of trying on Towns’ end. At this point, though, if it all ends in a loss, anyway, it’s somewhat moot to the 25-year-old.
“I’m not here for the stats and (stuff) like this. It’s cool to get stats. I’ve done that six years,” Towns said. “That (stuff) don’t work. If you want to build a legacy, we got to win. We got to win. And I want to build my legacy here, so I want to win with the Wolves, and I’m going to do everything I possible can to keep step-by-step, brick-by-brick, building something and a culture here that’s going to stand here for a long time.”