PHILADELPHIA – During his postgame media session following a masterful performance in a 122-113 Timberwolves loss to Philadelphia, Karl-Anthony Towns was talking about his growth in the organization. At one point he brought up the "elephant in the room."
"Tomorrow is Easter. My mom died on Easter. So you got to grow up real quick," Towns said.
Almost as if on cue, Towns' father, Karl Sr., came over to hug his son and the two shared an embrace full of smiles. Karl Sr. then apologized for interrupting the news conference and went back out of frame.
"There's my mood spike," Towns said.
Before the season, Towns said it was going to be "hard" to play after losing his mother, Jacqueline, and other family members to COVID-19. As he was being introduced before the Wolves' first preseason game, Towns could barely make it off the bench he was so overcome with emotion.
Now, as he prepares to face the holiday on which his mother died, Towns somehow managed to pull together one of his best performances of the season despite the Wolves' loss. Towns went up against his perceived archnemesis, 76ers center Joel Embiid, with whom he memorably scuffled last season, and came out with 39 points, 14 rebounds and one dunk on Embiid's head in the second quarter.
Going through what Towns went through alters your perspective, and Towns has been less argumentative with officials all season because it's just not worth his energy, he has said. When Embiid fouled him hard twice in the second half Saturday, Towns just walked away as if to say it's not worth it.
Towns didn't care about the personal battle with Embiid, who scored 24 points. He just wanted to win.
"It's the game, man," Towns said. "I ain't here to live out a narrative people want about us. ... I'm here to win the game. So I was going to go downhill as effectively as possible and just play the game."
Coach Chris Finch wasn't afraid to declare a winner in that matchup, however.
"Obviously KAT was outstanding," Finch said. "He took the challenge of the personal battle with Embiid and in many ways he outplayed him."
Finch didn't want to take Towns off the floor at all. On the tail end of a back-to-back, Finch played Towns a Thibodeauean 44 minutes.
"Trying to win the game. Whatever it would take … " Finch said. "When you got a guy like Kat having the game like he did, I just didn't feel comfortable taking him off the floor."
Towns scored from all levels. He was 11-for-23 from the floor, hit 13 of 14 free throws and was impossible for the 76ers to guard with one player.
"He was unstoppable," said Anthony Edwards (27 points). " Just get him the ball."
The Wolves obliged. Towns helped the Wolves cut a 19-point second-half deficit to four before Tobias Harris (32 points) put the game away with three straight buckets late.
The Wolves were without Malik Beasley (left hamstring soreness), Ricky Rubio (back spasms) and D'Angelo Russell (left knee) and lost Jaylen Nowell to an apparent right ankle injury in the first half, and the relatively healthy 76ers had too much firepower and experience on their side.
Towns was asked if the losses still hurt.
"They for sure do," Towns said.
At that moment, Towns' nephew came up to him to say hello.
"But this guy right here and my family, they make what I do all worth it," Towns said. "Even all the pain, they make it worth it. When you lose someone like I did, the game may be lost but I'm just trying to win in this game of life."