Just like you might do when the neighbors get too close, Timberwolves rookie star Karl-Anthony Towns moved on out during Saturday’s 132-118 victory over Brooklyn at Target Center.
When a Nets team resting big men Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young sent two and sometimes three defenders at Towns down low, he moved away from the basket and out to the high post, where he found space to work and see the floor.
From there, he found teammates moving and open in the places where he had been — and elsewhere as well — and he hit them with precise and well-timed passes.
In a game in which the Wolves tied their season high with 36 assists and shot the ball better from the field than any NBA team in 18 years, Towns’ seven assists — three fewer than Ricky Rubio’s team-high 10, one more than Andrew Wiggins’ six — were his most as a pro.
Towns scored 28 points, his 23rd 20-point game this season. He also had two steals and blocked three shots, his 19th game with at least three blocks.
But it was his passing that shone on a night when interim coach Sam Mitchell ceremoniously removed Towns, Wiggins and Rubio together to the audience’s applause late in the game. That came one night after he had benched the starting five in the second half at Milwaukee.
Towns called the Wolves’ passing “exemplary” and acknowledged he played more out of the high post than he normally might.
“I’m usually up there sometimes,” he said. “I try to mix it up, in and out of the game. But today especially, they [the Nets] did a great job: Every time in the post I was getting triple-teamed, double-teamed. It’s a way to open the floor. I try to spread out a little bit.”
He had three assists in the first quarter and three in the final one. He found Wiggins three times for two open jumpers and a dunk, reserve forward Shabazz Muhammad twice slashing to the basket for a layup and a dunk.
“We put all our guys up there, we put KAT and G up there,” Mitchell said, referring to Towns and center/forward Gorgui Dieng. “I like them playing up there. They can see the floor. They’re good with the ball. They’re good passers. I think that’s one of our advantages, that our two big guys can play with the basketball in their hands.”
It helped that everybody moved the ball generously, and it helped that the Wolves made shots like no other NBA team since 1998.
“I can’t explain that,” Nets interim coach Tony Brown said after his team finished a seven-game road trip by not playing two of its best players. “Minnesota played great.”
The Wolves’ 68.4 shooting percentage was both a franchise record and the best by a team since the Los Angeles Clippers shot 69.3 percent against Toronto on March 13, 1998.
“I was maybe 2 or 3,” said LaVine, who turned 3 three days before that 1998 game. “That’s a good record to have. … He [Towns] did a good job. He made the right passes and the right reads. That’s respect to him to show how good he’s gotten and how good he is, to be double- and tripled-teamed at 19, 20 years old. So when he passes, we’re going to be ready to shoot.”
With Towns playing away from the basket, his teammates moved, Towns passed and those teammates in turn made shots, lots of them.
“It made for a lot of assists for me,” Towns said, “with a lot of cutters getting wide-open lanes with the big man out of the middle.”