Karl-Anthony Towns was angry, and as Towns put it after the Timberwolves’ 119-118 Game 4 victory over Memphis: “Just not the most pleasant when I’m angry.”
Anger is not always a good mix for Towns when it comes to his game. Anger at officials or at how teams are guarding him can carry over in ways the NBA world saw up close in Game 3 of this first-round playoff series and in the play-in game last week.
A petulant Towns can sometimes shut down and be his own worst enemy.
The Wolves needed every bit of Towns’ anger on Saturday night. Who knows where they would be without it? Almost certainly not tied 2-2 in the best-of-seven series after winning a game that ended early Sunday morning.
“Just a bunch of rage and trying to find ways to just dominate regardless of what they throw,” Towns said. “A triple, quadruple [team], coach comes on the court and guards me as well. I do not care. Just find ways to put the ball in the bucket.”
Towns had 33 points and 14 rebounds to carry the Wolves across the finish line against a Grizzlies team that kept coming, but ultimately came up short. Towns scored 13 in the fourth quarter and iced the game with a pair of free throws to put the Wolves up four with 4.4 seconds remaining. A loud and boisterous Target Center grew quiet as each shot went up. To hear Towns tell it, they didn’t need to be nervous.
“I just knew those were in,” Towns said. “I didn’t go up there with any nervous energy. I was just thinking about what I was going to eat after.”
Over five minutes earlier, Towns again gave the Wolves a four-point lead, 109-105, when he nailed a three following a pindown action. That shot eased some of the tension as Memphis was closing in, but never took the lead.
“Whenever KAT’s aggressive, we know it’s going to be a good night for him, and for us as a team as well.”
The officials, Towns’ frequent foe, were actually his friend. He made it through a whistle-happy game with only three fouls while he went to the foul line for 17 free throws, which as many field goals as he attempted.
“Just aggressive, putting the pressure on them,” coach Chris Finch said. “Forcing them to blow the whistle, get to the free-throw line. Things that he hadn’t been doing the last couple games.”
He got to the line so much — and Memphis committed so many fouls — that Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins ripped the referees in his postgame comments, words that will likely land him a fine from the league office.
“I’ve never seen a more inconsistent and arrogant officiated game,” Jenkins told reporters.
The Wolves had no complaints, and they also had Towns’ back.
All season the Wolves had pride in their resilience, but never did they have to bounce back from as crushing a defeat as Thursday’s Game 3, when they lost despite leading by 26 points in the first half and by 25 points in the third.
The NBA landscape spent 48 hours lobbing grenades at them and Towns.
“We’ve had bad losses or bad stretches and bounced back really strong. We seem to forget quickly,” Finch said. “I was a little unsure how we would come into the game, but we looked really locked in right from the beginning, which was good.”
The Wolves allowed Desmond Bane to score 34 points on eight threes, but Bane didn’t hit a three in the second half until the final buzzer. Their defense again kept Ja Morant from torching them, with Morant scoring just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting.
“Bane, you give him a little bit of light and he knocks it in. He’s a tough cover,” Finch said. “But they are as Ja goes. We did a good job of putting our body in his way.”
They also did a good job of getting their bodies on the glass. They held Memphis to just six offensive rebounds after the Grizzlies had 13 in Game 3.
Anthony Edwards came back from a right knee injury scare in the first quarter to score 24 while Jordan McLaughlin provided a key lift off the bench with 16 points and hit multiple three-pointers when the Wolves were struggling to score at different times.
Finch was asked why he played McLaughlin so little prior to Game 4.
“Sometimes you do stupid things,” he said.
Edwards only wanted to talk about McLaughlin, who was seated next to him for postgame interviews.
“Man to the left of me is MVP of the game, for sure,” Edwards said. “…Jordan McLaughlin. Anything you ask me, that’s what I’m saying. Y’all might not want to ask me any more questions. Jordan McLaughlin. That’s my answer.”
Edwards did spare some words for Towns too.
“Whenever KAT’s aggressive, we know it’s going to be a good night for him, and for us as a team as well,” Edwards said.
So long as that aggressiveness goes in the right places and not in the foul column of the boxscore.
“It’s just channeling my energy and my anger more to just positive energy and putting it to my family and just taking a chill pill and calming down,” Towns said. “Understanding next game there’s another chance, and after that another chance to go out there and show who I am.”
Towns will have more opportunities to do that starting with Game 5 in Memphis on Tuesday.
The stakes will only get higher, and Towns has the chance to start a new legacy in his career.
“Starts with not having a lot of fouls,” Towns said. “Doing my job and just never forgetting to do my job, whatever it takes to win.”