PORTLAND, Ore. - And that’s how you silence a deafening crowd.
Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns’ six-foot hook shot with 1.8 seconds left did it thoroughly Saturday night in Portland, when a single swoosh through the netting muted another roaring crowd in Rip City and sent the visitors home undefeated from the season’s final road trip with a stunning 106-105 victory.
One of the league’s loudest arenas trembled when Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard converted an inexplicable four-point play with 3.5 seconds left that suddenly sent Portland from three points behind into a one-point lead just when it looked like they might lose for only the second time in eight games.
But before any plaster fell, Towns sent the Wolves home for the season’s remaining two games with victories at Golden State, Sacramento and now at Moda Center, where they had lost eight consecutive times until Saturday night.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Towns said afterward.
Leading by eight points with 2:09 left, the Wolves let it get away and found themselves trailing 105-104 after Lillard muscled up a shot while Rubio tried to foul him and then made the ensuing free throw to complete the rare four-point play.
Afterward, Rubio was asked if he owed Towns a hug for bailing him and the Wolves out with that winning hook shot over smaller Al-Farouq Aminu, an inbounds play after a timeout that interim head coach Sam Mitchell drew up hoping the Blazers might go small.
“Absolutely,” Rubio said. “Well, we made mistakes at the end, feels guilty. But KAT really stepped up and make a play at the end.”
Towns scored 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, including those final two that came on a night when he and Andrew Wiggins each flexed their shot-creating abilities and their scoring. Wiggins added 23 points and now is 24.8 points during April’s first five games.
“Our young guys have gotten better and better,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “I’m just proud of them.”
The Wolves now are 8-7 in their last 15 games, including a 6-3 record away from Target Center. In the past month, they have won games at Oklahoma City, Memphis, Golden State and Portland.
Prior to Ricky Rubio’s buzzer-beating shot that also beat the Thunder, the Wolves had gone 2-27 in those four arenas the last four years.
Now, they are two games better on the road (15-26) than they are at home (13-26).
“Fantastic,” Rubio said about heading home undefeated on this last three-game trip.
He was feeling particularly well after Towns turned everything back around just when Lillard’s four-point play had upended things.
“It was one of those things,” Towns said. “We came in the huddle. If this had been earlier in the year, we could have been a little flustered, a little rattled by that kind of moment. I see the growth in our team because we came in after that four-point play and we were very relaxed, very calm. We still felt we had the game in hand.”
Just moments before, Mitchell said he instructed his players to foul the Blazers before one of them could launch a three-point shot. Veteran Tayshaun Prince tried to do so on C.J. McCollum before Rubio thought he had fouled Lillard not once, but twice. The first one would have sent Lillard to the free-throw line for just two shots.
The second one came late, just as Lillard had enough room and momentum to hoist a shot.
“Yeah, we want to foul it,” Rubio said. “It was hard. I thought I fouled before. The referee didn’t see it that way. We almost lost the game because of me. Well, things happen. On the road, it’s hard to get a good call, especially at the end. It ended up in a good way, so we just have to learn about it.”
So did Rubio give Towns a hug or promise him a free dinner?
“He doesn’t need to do that,” Towns said. “I understand it was a very smart play on his part. Things just happen. That’s the name of the game. Basketball is sometimes cruel.”