Under the weather but not quite over the moon, Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns claimed he didn’t know just what he had done in Wednesday night’s 126-114 victory over Atlanta until coach Tom Thibodeau had delivered his postgame comments to players and locker-room attendants began collecting sweaty jerseys for laundering.
That’s when teammate Jamal Crawford suggested Towns keep his.
That’s when it sank in: a franchise record 56 points — surpassing the 52 that guard Mo Williams scored at Indiana in January 2015 — and 15 rebounds, too, for another double-double. This one, though, makes him only one of nine players in NBA history to record a 55-15 game, a feat that puts himself alongside Wilt Chamberlain and others.
“It hit me that I actually did what I did,” Towns said. “It was a real cool moment. Next thing you know, I was asking for the ball. I was asking for everything. It’s great when you have teammates who help you realize not only the little things, but the big things in life and how valuable and special they truly are. I’d lie to you: I would have probably just left here like it was a regular day.”
A regular day, it certainly was not.
For one thing, the Wolves moved a half-game ahead of Utah for seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game behind New Orleans and San Antonio and 1½ games behind fourth-place Oklahoma City.
For another, Towns attempted a career-high 32 shots and made 19 of them, including six three-pointers. He also made 12 of 15 free throws on a night when he said he didn’t shoot well. Instead, he credited teammates and 33 team assists for getting him the ball in the right place at the right time, only 48 hours after a dreadful loss to Memphis left Towns brooding and ornery.
And not just because he said he’s had a cough and has been losing his voice for days.
“It just happens,” Towns said. “The ball was moving everywhere, everyone was touching the ball. It was one of those nights where the last pass was just finding me in a good spot.”
Thibodeau said he and his coaches implored Towns to run the floor harder and establish position closer to the basket that he has been so opponents can’t send two and three defenders as easily.
He apparently did as he was told.
Towns scored 30 points after halftime. His 39 points after three quarters was second in club history, behind only Wally Szczerbiak’s 44 in 2003. His 17 points in the fourth quarter pushed the Hawks away after they drew within six points with 4 ½ minutes left.
Thibodeau calls Towns’ activity “tremendous” and his performance “unbelievable” in a game when the Hawks had nobody — not starting center Dewayne Dedmon, not Minnesota’s own Mike Muscala — big enough and agile enough to defend Towns all over the floor.
“He was all over the place, rebounding, scoring, dominating the game,” teammate Andrew Wiggins said. “They couldn’t do nothing with him. Amazing, a dominating performance, a special performance. You just starting passing [to him], sitting back and watching, just watching the show.”
The Wolves needed such a show to overcome a 21-54 Atlanta team that made 13 three-pointers and stuck around until fewer than five minutes remained before Towns shot the Hawks out of the game.
Towns lamented the 114 points his team allowed and although he called the history he made Wednesday “cool,” he also said, “I’d rather end the [playoff] drought here, 14 years. We’ve still got some work to do.”
He also said he had “no idea” he was approaching — and surpassing — players such as Williams, Kevin Love and Corey Brewer in team scoring history.
“Everyone was telling me I needed eight more, eight more for 50,” Towns said. “I wasn’t really thinking about that. We gave up so many points, I was just trying to find a way to win.”