LOS ANGELES – When pressed to pick, Timberwolves veteran star Jimmy Butler predicted young teammate Karl-Anthony Towns would win NBA All-Star Game MVP Sunday night in Los Angeles.
Of course, the great LeBron James did, but if Towns had played more, Butler wouldn’t have been all that far off in his prediction about Team Stephen’s suspenseful 148-145 loss to Team LeBron at Staples Center.
Butler responded to a questioner Saturday by playing the role he often does, contrarian.
But in a game reformatted this year, James and Stephen Curry captained teams each superstar selected from the league’s biggest stars. Towns played like he belonged among all of them during his first time as an All-Star.
The league leader in double-doubles this season, Towns delivered another one, All-Star style, with Sunday night’s 17-point, 10-rebound performance in just 18 minutes.
“I’ll remember it, all right,” Towns said. “It was a fun game.”
Towns made his first shot of the night — a three-pointer, of course — and just kept shooting, all the way to 7-for-11 night that included making six of his first seven shots.
“I found a groove early and rode the wave the rest of the game,” Towns said. “I’m happy with my first All-Star Game. Finding a way to get a double-double is pretty cool.”
A former All-Star himself, Wolves teammate Jeff Teague warned Towns about that first shot in that first All-Star Game.
“Jeff Teague told me coming here that your first shot, you’re probably going to shoot it way right or you’re going to shoot an air ball,” Towns said.
Towns did neither.
“I’ll talk to him about that on Wednesday,” Towns said. “After being told I was going to miss it, against tall odds, I made a jump shot. Who would have knew?”
Towns scored 13 points off the bench in the first half alone when his Team Stephen led by as many as 15 before the LeBrons fought back. They did so in a game that went away from its traditional East-West designations in an attempt to inject some pizazz back into a game that obviously had lacked it recently.
It didn’t hurt that the NBA rewarded each player from the winning team with $100,000, either.
Curry munched popcorn on the bench in the second half before he went back into the game, and James asked for some hot tea coming out of halftime.
But the game turned serious down the stretch, complete with a little trash talking and what TNT commentator Reggie Miller called the first setting of “flare” screens he’d ever seen in an All-Star Game.
The game turned close and competitive enough that referees turned to video replay to determine which team received possession with just 71 seconds left.
James scored the go-ahead basket on a finger-roll with 34.5 seconds left and then his team won the game with defense — at an All-Star Game? — when James and fellow superstar Kevin Durant trapped Curry with the ball along the sideline as the final seconds ticked out.
“It had a real game feel to it,” said James, who won his third career All-Star MVP award with a 29-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist triple-double.
Towns played into the fourth quarter alongside Curry, Harden, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo until Team Stephen coach Mike D’Antoni brought Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid to finish the game at center.
Towns got a double-double reached only by James’ triple-double game as well Sunday by opening up with that three-point shot. He later was the beneficiary of an alley-oop pass from James Harden that he dunked down as well as a lovely pass from Curry that Towns turned into an easy cutting layup.
Even though he didn’t play, Butler enjoyed watching his teammate.
“Great, great, great,” Butler said about Towns’ night. “I told KAT, ‘Just go out there and play, just be you.’ He did that. He was smiling, having fun. That was what the game was all about.”
Butler in the weeks leading to Sunday said that there’s no place in such a game for a man who lives to defend and win like he does.
Butler was the only All-Star from either team who didn’t play a second — at his own request — after he was named to the game for the fourth consecutive season.
He said preparing his body to play 38 minutes a night in the season’s final 21 games is his priority.
“Just rest, man,” Butler said. “I got to rest my body.”
When told Saturday he could ask Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau to cut his league-leading minutes, Butler said, “No, I like playing. I love basketball, man. I like going with what we got.”
The Wolves on Sunday sent two players to an All-Star Game for the fourth time in their history, and the first since Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell went in a 2003-04 season when they led the team to the Western Conference finals.
Butler explained his prediction Saturday by saying, “He’s going to shoot the ball every time, as he should. He better not look to pass it. He’s a young and upcoming talent in this league. Why not let him be MVP?”
Towns’ 17 points were third on his Team Stephen — behind only the 21 scored by Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Portland’s Damian Lillard.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Towns said. “I had one of the best seats in the house for probably one of the best sporting events in the world. I’m very fortunate. … I’m a fan of the All-Star Game. I’m a fan of giving our fans an experience they don’t get to see but one day a year.”