LOS ANGELES – When opportunity rapped Thursday night at Staples Center, the Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns replied with a comeback 104-101 victory that ended the Clippers’ winning streak at seven games.
Known for what his coach calls a “unique skill set” and his ability to score from almost anywhere in any way, Towns did so when he scored nine consecutive points for his team in the final three minutes.
From trailing 97-93 with fewer than three minutes left, the Wolves scored 11 of the game’s final 15 points. The Clippers played without not one All-Star, but two when both guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin sat out injured.
Clippers star center DeAndre Jordan stepped forth in their absence with a 29-point, 16-rebound game that would have sufficed if Towns had not trumped it with a 37-point, 12-rebound, five-assist night that included 15 points in the fourth quarter and 27 after halftime.
It might have been enough, too, if the Wolves’ strategy to foul Jordan repeatedly with the game on the line hadn’t worked just enough to provide their first victory this season in a game decided by three points or less.
Until Thursday, they were 0-7 in such games, having lost five times by two points and twice by three points.
“He was unbelievable,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, referring to Towns. “He really made shots all over the floor. We probably should have done something else to stop him. However, we didn’t and he made us pay for it.”
“Karl-Anthony Towns was on another level tonight,” Clippers guard Austin Rivers said.
Afterward, Towns praised his teammates, saying he couldn’t have done what he did — the third 30-10-5 game of his career — if rookie Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones hadn’t done what they did in playing together for the game’s final six minutes. They did so after starting point guard Ricky Rubio left the game at halftime because of tightness in his hip.
But Towns also made it clear he wanted the ball in his hands with the game in doubt and often he got it, after he and Jones displayed some chemistry working pick-and-roll plays together.
“I always thought I was clutch,” he said, answering a question about becoming a clutch player. “I never thought anything else. With the ball in my hand, I’m very confident I’ll hit those shots. Nothing changed with the ball in my hands. I went in with extreme confidence and energy and love for the game.
“Regardless of what happens, I wasn’t afraid. I think that’s why I made those shots.”
He scored nearly every way imaginable and from nearly everywhere: Those nine consecutive points scored for the Wolves took them from trailing 97-93 into a 102-101 lead with 45 seconds left that they never lost.
He started with a three-point shot, moved onto a 17-foot step-back jump shot, scored on a hook shot and finished those nine consecutive points with another step-back shot, this one from 18 feet.
“He pulled out every shot, every trick in the book,” Jones said after he played the final 20 seconds of the first half and then the entire fourth quarter, including those final six minutes with Dunn when the Clippers essentially played four guards. “It was a lot of fun to watch. When he’s playing like that, he’s hard to stop.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau praised the play of Dunn and Jones, who were relied upon in the second half after Rubio was no longer able to play. Rubio said after the game that his hip had bothered him some in recent days and just tightened up on him Thursday in the first half.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said.
When asked about Towns’ performance, Thibodeau initially answered by talking about Jones.
“When you go and look at it, you’ll see Tyus made really good plays, too,” Thibodeau said. “I thought that helped; the ball movement was really good. You saw Karl’s unique skill set. How he can score and how quickly he can get his shots off, lefthanded jump hooks, mixed in some drive, ran the floor, there were some drop-offs, some offensive rebounds. He did a lot of stuff.
“I think you saw the full gamut offensively and we’re expecting to see that defensively, too.”
The Wolves ended a six-game road losing streak and also ended a three-game trip that started with losses at Dallas and San Antonio as winners headed home Friday to play Denver at Target Center on Sunday.