Karl-Anthony Towns was giving a diplomatic answer to a question concerning his role in the fourth quarter of games since the Wolves traded their closer from last season in those situations, Jimmy Butler.
“I’m a big believer in taking what the game is giving you,” Towns said, before elaborating that he wasn’t going to force his shots up amid double or triple teams. But toward the end of his answer, a grin overtook Towns’ face.
“I’d be lying saying if I didn’t want the shots,” Towns said. “So I took the shots.”
The Wolves were better for that on Wednesday in their 121-104 victory over the Hornets at Target Center. Towns looked like an All-Star at both ends of the floor in amassing 35 points, 12 rebounds and tying a career high with six blocks. With the Wolves down 96-93 with 8 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the fourth, Towns checked back in and proceeded to score the next seven points in the game, putting the Wolves on their way to their sixth win in their last seven games.
“We’re going to go to him,” Derrick Rose said. “We know how good he is. We know how talented he is. That’s why he gets paid what he gets paid. So … we’re going to go to him.”
Towns said there are nights when teams might gang up on him in these situations, and he’ll have to have to relinquish the ball. He trusts his teammates like Andrew Wiggins, who had a second consecutive strong effort including a highlight-reel put-back slam for two of his 26 points, to make big shots in those moments.
“I think the game will tell you who’s really going to get the shots in the fourth quarter,” Towns said.
However, Wednesday made it clear: Towns is option No. 1. He can decide what to do from there. It’s a role that Butler filled when he was here, and for most of the last season and the early part of this season, Towns demurred to the more veteran and domineering Butler. But his teammates could sense he was ready to relish this opportunity.
“I think he always wanted that role,” said guard Jeff Teague, who had a career-high 18 assists. “They were two talented players. But now he’s demanding it, and we all expect it from him, really. He knows this is his team and we follow him.”
They took their cue from Towns the rest of the fourth quarter and gashed open a nip-and-tuck affair with strong defense in the final 12 minutes, outscoring the Hornets 35-18. Robert Covington’s typically strong defense helped limit Charlotte scoring machine Kemba Walker to 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting, although it wasn’t always pretty on that end of the floor. The Wolves were down by as many as 15 in the first half and like Monday’s win over the Rockets, it was Wiggins who kept them afloat, including his thunderous jam over multiple people amid a 20-6 burst before halftime.
“It feels good to be back,” Wiggins said. “I had a little stretch where I wasn’t playing too well, but it happens. I just got back in the gym and got back to myself.”
Towns was the same way throughout the night, whether he was operating off the pick-and-roll with Teague, posting up Cody Zeller inside or hitting four of five three-pointers.
“I wouldn’t say there was ever anybody in his way,” forward Taj Gibson said of Towns becoming the go-to guy down the stretch. “It’s all about sometimes wanting it more. It’s all about having that effect of who’s going to take that shot.”
More often than not, the Wolves want it to be Towns.