Late on Tuesday night, Philadephia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons tried to get Karl-Anthony Towns to hang out online and play a game of “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” with him. Simmons’ fellow former No. 1 overall pick said he couldn’t, because his Minnesota Timberwolves had a game Wednesday night and he needed to get some rest.
“You got time. Who do you play tomorrow?” Simmons asked.
“Hawks,” Towns replied.
“Yeah, you got plenty of time,” Simmons quickly said, and they both started laughing.
With all due respect to the Atlanta Hawks, who are one of the NBA’s worst teams in the first year of their total-teardown rebuild … it turns out Ben was right.
Towns completely dominated Mike Budenholzer’s club, scoring a franchise-record 56 points on 19-for-32 shooting to go with 15 rebounds, four assists and a block in 41 minutes of work as the Wolves bounced back from a disappointing Monday loss with a 126-114 win.
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 29, 2018
Ben Simmons doubling down on his comment about the Hawks pic.twitter.com/0ZQ22HgmO7
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) March 29, 2018
A 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:16 to go in the fourth gave Towns 54 for the evening, which not only blew away his previous career high of 47, but also pushed him past the immortal Mo Williams and into sole possession of the best scoring performance in Minnesota’s franchise history. A pair of free throws later, he earned a share of the third-highest-scoring outing of the 2017-18 season, trailing only James Harden’s 60-point triple-double and the 57 that LeBron James hung on the Washington Wizards back in November, and tying the 56 that Harden served up to the Utah Jazz right after James’ explosion.
After Monday’s awful loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, head coach Tom Thibodeau called on his team to bring more toughness and more will as they look to finish off the season strong and end a 13-year playoff drought. Towns responded in a major way on Wednesday, feasting inside and out in a performance not seen by a player his age since a young Shaquille O’Neal terrorized opponents in Orlando:
With a Timberwolves record 56 points, Karl-Anthony Towns also grabbed 15 rebounds. He's the youngest player with 50 points and 15 rebounds in a game since Shaquille O'Neal on April 20, 1994 vs the Timberwolves (O'Neal was 22 years, 45 days, Towns is 22 years, 133 days). pic.twitter.com/NCrSDiQSmG
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2018
Whereas Shaq did all of his damage directly at the front of the rim, Towns tortured the Hawks inside and out. The All-Star drilled six of his eight 3-point tries — he’s now shooting 43.8 percent from long distance this season — while repeatedly working Atlanta’s bigs to the tune of 22 points in the paint and a 12-for-15 mark at the charity stripe.
Even with Towns going off, there were still some nervy moments for Thibodeau’s team. The overmatched Hawks refused to quit, trailing by just six with 4:22 to go thanks to strong contributions from the likes of sophomore swingman Taurean Prince (21 points, seven assists, four rebounds), reserve big Mike Muscala (24 points on 10 shots in 25 minutes off the bench) and point guard Isaiah Taylor (20 points, eight dimes, two rebounds and two steals). But Towns propelled the Wolves past the finish line, scoring 13 of Minnesota’s final 16 points … and even assisting on the other three, passing up an open 3-ball in favor of getting point guard Jeff Teague an even cleaner look from beyond the arc. (Let it never be said that KAT’s not a team player.)
Towns’ performance ended a two-game skid for the Wolves, who improved to 43-33. Minnesota now has a two-game cushion over the ninth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the race for the West’s final playoff spot and, remarkably enough, sits just a game and a half south of the Oklahoma City Thunder for fourth place in the crowded conference with a half-dozen games left in the season.
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