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Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves needed this win: ‘Keep after it, and maybe the tide turns’

May 29th, 2024

DALLAS — Karl-Anthony Towns’ game, his future with the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise and his responsibility in this team going from toast of the NBA to toast in the Western Conference finals had been examined in the last few days.

The silly fouls, the shooting, the ghastly percentages were all on the front burner. The player he’s been for nine years was suddenly being dissected by those who’ve always been tantalized by his talent but frustrated by the lack of results his talent seems to demand.

More than anyone on that roster, even more than permanent whipping boy Rudy Gobert, Towns needed this. Not just to perform, but to make an impact on winning. Valor in a sweep would only go so far.

And then, in a 15-minute span where he was one foul away from disqualification, in a game where his team was one loss from elimination, he dug deep and went to a place, a zip code he’s never visited since becoming a professional.

Anthony Edwards put it simply: “He was the reason we won tonight.”

Towns finally found the range at the time the Timberwolves needed it desperately, scoring 25 with five rebounds as Minnesota got on the board in this conference final with a 105-100 win, sending the series back to Minneapolis for Game 5 on Thursday night.

All three of his fourth-quarter triples occurred in a three-minute span — the first giving the Timberwolves a 92-90 lead and the final giving his team a little breathing room with 2:54 left and a six-point lead.

“He was super confident,” Edwards said. “He wasn’t worried about any shots previous to the ones he hit tonight. He played exceptionally well.”

The fourth quarters had been a bugaboo for the Timberwolves in this series, and you could easily make the case the struggles fell on Towns’ shoulders. The Dallas Mavericks made the decision Edwards would not beat them, and he couldn’t over the first three games.

He saw eyes, hands and feet all in his way, and with the way this team is structured, Towns has to be a dynamic scorer. What was a smart bet backfired for once on Dallas’ part, and for the first time in well over a week, the Timberwolves appeared to play like the poised outfit that was initially favored.

DALLAS, TEXAS - MAY 28:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrates a basket during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals at American Airlines Center on May 28, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns celebrates a basket during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

A lot can happen in eight days. Towns went from silencing doubters to having them all sprout back up, in full effect, with the stakes being higher than ever. It wasn’t about him putting up gaudy but ultimately empty numbers, it was about Towns holding his team back from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It was about Towns’ fit as this franchise moves forward, especially when his coach, Chris Finch, said his Game 3 performance was “hard to watch,” as Towns shot 5 for 18.

“He’s been a huge part of every series until (now) and we knew we had to get him into this series,” Finch said. “Tonight was a great step for that.

“KAT’s a great player. His struggles were not gonna last forever. He got deep in foul trouble, but we left him out there. Left him rolling. Played smart, played under control. Really proud of him.”

But if there’s a theme in these playoffs, in the last two years specifically, it’s been players shedding the skin of disappointment, challenging the NBA world’s collective confirmation bias of first impressions and charting new narratives.

Like Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets last year. Like the Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving pairing this year. Like the Boston Celtics out east.

It may be too late for Towns and the Timberwolves this year — the hole they’ve dug is likely too deep to recover from — but they’re too youthful to believe otherwise. This isn’t quite a young team, there are veterans who express the urgency, who are good enough to influence winning, but they can’t drive it.

“He’s been the talk of the series, when he hasn’t been able to make shots,” veteran point guard Mike Conley (14 points, seven assists) told Yahoo Sports of Towns. “For him to block all that out, refocus his intention to winning, is impressive. The guy works his ass off and to not get rewarded for it in the first three games, it hurts to see him like that. But you keep after it, and maybe the tide turns.”

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The Timberwolves walked into American Airlines Center aware a celebration could be had on this home floor, and all they had to do was cooperate, to concede, to “good job, good effort” and slink into the offseason.

But these dudes are spectacularly stubborn, oblivious at the most obvious statistics and have the gall to believe they’ll be back for a Game 6 and, then, a Game 7.

“Ain’t no time to have any doubts,” Towns said. “I’m gonna go out there, be aggressive. Shoot my shot. Like I’ve been doing all series and be confident every shot I shoot.”

Towns fouled out with his team up eight, because of course this series needs more suspense packed into a compressed time. It only opened the door for Edwards, who slowly seems to be figuring out the spaces in Dallas’ defense to assert himself.

Especially with Mavericks center Dereck Lively II out due to a neck sprain, Edwards found more room — throwing himself into bodies at the rim, rarely being rewarded for it but being relentless in his approach.

Missing an elbow jumper with 1:25 left wasn’t gonna deter him from taking another one — from a deeper distance at that. So he put more elevation into his 20-footer, giving the Timberwolves a 102-97 lead with 38.8 seconds remaining.

“I was on the bench, I had a front row seat to watch it, yeah, when I fouled out,” said Towns to laughs. “I’m seeing Ant, in a way visualizing that make. He got exactly to the spot he wanted to get to.”

Edwards again flirted with a triple-double, with 29 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. But more importantly, this bouncy group has reason to feel like they’re growing up, even through failure, even though the elimination that history says is sure to come.

“We might as well shake it up,” Edwards said to his teammates in the locker room, beaming with confidence.

For the first time this series, perhaps it’s an anomaly, they held the potent duo of Dončić and Irving to below-average performances. Dončić was spectacular but could only muster up magic in moments compared to his total game dominance in the first three contests.

The Timberwolves could withstand Dončić’s 28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists because they didn’t let him use the whole floor as his personal playground, forcing him and Irving to 33 percent shooting each.

That’s a formula, one that feels repeatable for at least one more game. But can they grow up even more in the span of two days, then another two days, then another?

“It’s not a can we or can’t we,” Conley told Yahoo Sports. “We have to.”

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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