Karl-Anthony Towns has put together one of the best rookie seasons for a big man in the last 20 years, and he showed off his entire repertoire in the first half Monday night against the Boston Celtics.
The hook shots, the up-and-under, the 3-pointer, it was all on display in another dazzling performance. And it almost wasn’t enough.
Towns had 28 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, and the Minnesota Timberwolves hung on to beat the Celtics 124-122 when Marcus Smart’s 3-pointer at the buzzer went off the back iron.
“I’m upset,” said Towns, whose Wolves led by 16 in the first quarter, 14 with 4 minutes to go and 10 with 90 seconds left before nearly giving the game away. “It’s hard to smile after a game like this. It should’ve never got to that point. We’ve just got to be better.”
Gorgui Dieng had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio gave the Wolves 15 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and some terrific defence on All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas.
Jae Crowder had 27 points and nine rebounds for the Celtics, who lost on the second night of a back-to-back for the first time in six games. Boston’s normally stingy defence gave up 51.8 per cent shooting to the Wolves. The Celtics were also outrebounded 51-38.
Despite their sluggishness, the Celtics found some defence late, took advantage of three missed free throws in the final 30 seconds and had a clean look to win it.
“The guys fought again,” coach Brad Stevens said. “They found a way back in it somehow. I don’t know how they do it, but it seems like we always have a chance.”
Zach LaVine had 16 points and shot 4 of 5 on 3-pointers, and Andrew Wiggins scored 17 for the Wolves.
The Timberwolves were terrible in a home loss to the Knicks on Saturday night, trailing by 24 early in the fourth quarter as former coach Kurt Rambis cruised to his first win with New York. Minnesota came out with much more energy playing against a team on the second night of a tough back-to-back after playing in Denver on Sunday.
During one incredible stretch in the first quarter, Towns scored nine straight for the Wolves, including a baby hook on the baseline and a dazzling up-and-under move that left Tyler Zeller grasping at air and injured Wolves star Kevin Garnett jumping out of his seat on the bench and letting out a howl.
“Towns had his way with us the whole night,” Stevens said. “Obviously their other guys did, too, but certainly he stood out.”
The Wolves led by 16 in the first quarter and 11 in the second, but the Celtics closed the first three quarters with bursts to stay within striking distance.
Rubio was disruptive all night on the defensive end, stifling Boston’s pick-and-roll and limiting the number of clean looks for Thomas, who started the game 0 for 7 and finished with 18 points on 8-for-20 shooting.
That kind of dogged effort is usually the Celtics’ specialty. They came in third in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but couldn’t quite finish off the comeback.
Boston pulled within one with 5.3 seconds to play, but Smart’s look from the right wing was off target, allowing the Wolves to escape.
“It’s great to have a ‘W,’ but for me personally I’m just not happy with the way we played at the end,” Towns said. “That’s us, especially me. We’ve got to do a better job.”
The Timberwolves have been one of the best teams in the league at getting to the foul line this season, and they took advantage of a foul-prone Celtics defence. Minnesota shot 40 free throws and made 30 of them.
“It’s frustrating,” Stevens said. “It’s something we talk about very consistently. And it’s becoming frustrating.”
Celtics: Smart had 17 points and seven assists. … Jared Sullinger had 12 points and seven rebounds.
Timberwolves: F Nemanja Bjelica had an MRI on the right foot injury that occurred over the All-Star break. It revealed a strain and he will miss at least the next three games on the upcoming road trip. … Rookie PG Tyus Jones had his best game as a pro with nine points on 4-for-7 shooting in 16 minutes.