Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns calls it “getting a piece of the sugar,” but make no more mistake: His coach is no Candy Man who mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.
Sugar is Towns’ code for moving the basketball so that all share its touches, shots and points in appropriate portions.
It’s something the Wolves have done with startling efficiency at times this season. At other times — most noticeably in fourth quarters — it sticks and stops with such frequency that nobody savors its sweetness.
On Monday, Towns took a season-low seven shots and scored six points in an underachieving 95-92 loss at Memphis. The Grizzlies repeatedly sent two defenders at him, forcing Towns to pass the ball.
On Wednesday, Towns took six shots in the second quarter alone and 14 total. He had 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots and two steals, becoming the first NBA player to reach those thresholds in one game this season. He delivered two crucial blocked shots in the final minutes of a 113-107 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles.
In each game, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said his young star made the right plays, giving up the ball when the Grizzlies committed an extra defender to him and using his mobility to create for himself against the Clippers.
“Make the right decisions,” Thibodeau said after Wednesday’s game. “I think it started with KAT tonight. Everyone [in public opinion] was upset with KAT last game. They didn’t think he shot enough, but he made the right plays. That’s what he’s supposed to do. Now, he was more active today when he got rid of the ball, so that’s important also. Just make the right plays. If you’re a primary scorer and the secondary defender comes, trust the pass, hit the open man and then that guy makes the next reads.”
Thibodeau bristled when asked if Towns plays with more energy when he gets more touches, particularly early in the game.
“Well, he plays the same,” Thibodeau said. “You guys, I don’t understand what you’re saying. We run the same system every game. So I don’t know where you’re going with that. What do you mean by that? He touches the ball every game, a lot. Yeah.”
Asked the same question, Towns answered, “I think that would probably be something to say, yeah.” Then he went into a soliloquy about fourth quarters, when he said his energy and focus are “unmatched” and “unwavering” and he’s at his most aggressive on both ends.
He often hasn’t been that in fourth quarters this season, but he was Wednesday, particularly defensively. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was unstoppable during an 18-point, 21-rebound game that included nine offensive rebounds, except when Towns blocked his shot with 3:27 left after the Clippers cut a 19-point, third-quarter deficit to as few as three points.
Just 73 seconds later, he blocked Lou Williams’ driving layup attempt after the Wolves were well on their way to a late 8-0 run that saved the game.
“You just got to do what you got to do to win,” Towns said. “For me, it’s not going to be an offensive play I make for us every day. I have to make defensive plays if we want to win the game, and I knew the game was on the line.”
Veteran teammate Jeff Teague sees an uptick in Towns’ defense when he starts games well offensively.
“I think you see when his shot starts falling and things go his way, his defense really becomes a problem for the other team,” Teague said. “Tonight, he did that. That’s everybody, though. Once you see some things going well on the offensive end, your defense usually picks up.”
Towns turned his piece of sugar into important defensive plays, and he credited his team for moving the ball well all night.
“Everyone got a piece of the sugar,” Towns said. “You could tell by our assist numbers (29) and turnovers (15).”
Just how many pieces of sugar does Towns need nightly?
“I try to stay away from that so I can have abs,” Towns said.