In a season filled with embarrassing losses, the Timberwolves were on their way to somehow topping all of them when they fell behind by 19 points in the second half to a Houston team that had just ended a 20-game losing streak earlier this week.
But Karl-Anthony Towns, who has seen plenty of losing during his tenure, had seen enough, and he wasn't going to let the Wolves be the ultimate laughingstock in a battle between the two worst teams in the Western Conference.
It was Towns who sparked an improbable and slightly hilarious fourth-quarter comeback as the Wolves beat Houston 107-101. It was improbable because the Wolves looked like they have in so many lopsided losses for three-plus quarters and slightly hilarious because the Wolves closed the game on a 22-0 run over the last 7 minutes, 31 seconds.
That's right, this Wolves team held another NBA team scoreless for the final 7:31. It helped that it was Houston (12-32) as the Wolves (11-34) won in the battle of the pingpong balls Friday.
Towns wasn't exactly in a celebratory mood after the Wolves barely avoided the infamy of losing in a blowout to Houston.
"We didn't deserve it," Towns said. "We shouldn't feel like we did close to enough tonight to even be in the game."
It was more the Rockets letting the Wolves back in the game. The Rockets had a 101-85 lead after a D.J. Augustin bucket with 7:31 to play. But Houston went 0-for-14 the rest of the game while Towns went to work. He scored 14 of his 29 points in the fourth to go with eight assists and 16 rebounds, the latter total moving him past Kevin Love into second place on the Wolves' all-time rebounding list (Kevin Garnett is No. 1).
Towns went 6-for-6 at the free-throw line and hit a pair of threes in the fourth. His jumper from the left wing gave Minnesota its first lead of the second half at 103-101 lead with 1:49 to play.
"He showed he wanted to win, we just followed suit," said center Naz Reid, who had 16 points off the bench. "His leadership is incredible, and every day he goes out there and he speaks on it and he shows it on the court."
Added coach Chris Finch: "It was a great job of just kind of putting away all of his frustrations — and there were many frustrations throughout the game."
For one, the referees were letting a lot of contact go inside and Towns struggled to 6-for-15 shooting through three quarters. But also, he was just frustrated with how the Wolves were playing.
"We showed that we could be a special team when we want to be. But we have to do it for 48 — at least more than eight minutes," Towns said. "Let's start with more than eight, and then let's get to 48. We've got to start building now the foundation of the standards of what this team will be."
Part of that foundation, Anthony Edwards, had another tough night as he shot 4-for-17 for 12 points. Finch sat Edwards down the stretch against Oklahoma City on Monday, and Edwards' tough night led to that again Friday.
"He was going to get a couple minutes, finish the game, but the game was in control of the guys who were on the floor," Finch said. "He still played the second-most minutes of the night , had plenty of opportunities to impact that game.
"Listen, we don't have the luxury of having a closing lineup right now. We're just going to have to go with guys who played well that night and earned their moments in the last five, six minutes."
Those last minutes were the only bright spot for the Wolves, and because they were also playing a team vying for worst record in the league, it was enough for a comeback victory. The teams take the court again Saturday as part of a back-to-back set of games only a mother could love. Towns certainly didn't love the performance Friday, even if it ended in a win.
"You could sense it right after the game," Towns said. "We didn't have that, 'Oh we won,' kind of jolly — we didn't have all of that. We didn't even play music. We knew what it was."