Before Charlotte's 120-114 victory over the Timberwolves on Friday night, the Hornets announced they would be without three players — P.J. Washington, and Caleb and Cody Martin — because of COVID-19 protocols.
There was a possibility the NBA would not allow the game to go forward, but it did.
According to Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, this "triggered" something in him as he was set in to play in his second game since returning from his own battle with coronavirus, which has claimed the life of his mother and six other family members, he said.
Towns didn't feel much like playing anymore — and he was concerned about the safety of his teammates and opponents.
"I wasn't mentally there in the first half," Towns said. "That COVID situation really spooked me. I don't know. It just triggered me. My teammates knew it and they were there to support me and they understood it was going to be tough for me early on, but it spooked me a lot. To say I was scared is the least thing, but second half, I felt better."
He said he spoke to his father, Karl Sr., at halftime and that helped soothe his anxiety to resume the game and play the rest of the way. Towns finished with 25 points and eight rebounds after starting the game 2-for-9. Afterward he was again candid about his mental state having to play NBA games while the virus is still prevalent in America. Towns indicated his thoughts were churning.
"It just brought up so many things I've been through and it affected me in such a way where basketball wasn't important anymore," Towns said. "I remember going up to [coach] Ryan [Saunders] and asking are you sure we should play this? These guys had some COVID positives, and we're playing with guys who were around these people.
"I was one of those guys that was negative today and tomorrow negative and the next day I was positive with COVID and a bad case of it."
Also, in his head — how reliable and detailed was the contact tracing for those who were out, how were they doing healthwise, were his teammates safe?
Towns said because of the antibodies he has he wasn't worried about himself being reinfected, but he was worried for others in the building. It's hard to imagine what else might have been going through his head given all that has happened to him and his family since.
"I was more worried for our guys," Towns said. "I don't want them to go through what I went through. For me, it was me just thinking for them and this is not a situation to play with especially if you have someone positive."
Once again, basketball didn't relent or offer much quarter for Towns, who played better the later the game got. Towns hit a pair of three-pointers in the final 2 minutes, 38 seconds to twice cut the Wolves' deficit to one, but Hornets guard Terry Rozier answered each of those with a three of his own to put Charlotte back up four.
Rozier stole the show on the floor with 41 points. Malik Beasley had 31 for the Wolves while the rookie showdown between Anthony Edwards (21 points) and LaMelo Ball (21 points, 10 rebounds) didn't disappoint.
But Towns wasn't able to fully enjoy or immerse himself in the game given all that happened before it began.
"Basketball became secondary at that minute," Towns said. "I know it was a few minutes before the game, but I couldn't think about basketball. I'm thinking about the health of these guys, especially my own guys. We're a family. We may be wearing different jerseys, but ... when we step off that court we're a family, we're a brotherhood."
And Towns has seen too much happen to his family the last year.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.