There was only one superstar on the floor during Thursday’s game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin dealing with injuries, and Karl-Anthony Towns lived up to the description.
Towns led Minnesota to the 104-101 victory at Staples Center behind 37 points and 12 rebounds. He found the ball in his hands on nearly every crucial possession and delivered with nine straight points for his team to turn a 97-93 deficit into a 102-101 lead.
Minnesota snapped a two-game losing streak with the win and moved to 15-28, while the Clippers fell to 29-15 and saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end.
Towns shot 17-of-24 from the field and also added five assists, but it was his ability to carry the offense in the second half that stood out, as ESPN Stats & Info illustrated:
He received some help from Andrew Wiggins, who was the only other Timberwolves player to score more than 13 points. Wiggins finished with 27 points, four assists and four rebounds and kept Minnesota in the game early before Towns won it late.
The Timberwolves announced Ricky Rubio was struggling with hip tightness, which kept him out of the second half, but Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn combined for eight assists in his place.
As for the Clippers, Paul was out with a torn ligament in his thumb, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. Griffin is still out after knee surgery, but DeAndre Jordan picked up the slack with 29 points and 16 rebounds on 12-of-15 shooting from the field. However, he was just 5-of-12 from the free-throw line, many of which came in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
Austin Rivers (20 points) and Raymond Felton (10 points and eight assists) were solid in Paul’s place, but the Clippers were missing a go-to option near the end. Los Angeles also shot an abysmal 4-of-22 from three-point range and couldn’t put the Timberwolves away despite holding the lead for the majority of the second half.
Minnesota scored the first six points and used a 7-2 run to extend its advantage to 15-8. However, Los Angeles turned to a two-man attack with Felton and Jordan, and the big man’s shot in the lane gave it a 22-21 lead.
Wiggins scored four straight points to give the Timberwolves a 25-22 lead by the end of the quarter. Los Angeles had few defensive answers for the matchup problem, and he scored 11 points in the first.
The Clippers remained close early, largely because Felton was doing his best Paul impersonation with five first-quarter assists to zero turnovers.
Los Angeles tightened the defense on Wiggins early in the second and took a 32-30 lead after a Brandon Bass jumper. A Zach LaVine three made it 35-35, but the Clippers responded by taking control of the game for the first time.
Jordan’s shot in the post and Felton’s layup capped a 12-2 run and gave the home team the 47-37 advantage.
Josh Martin of Bleacher Report noted it wasn’t an aberration that Jordan was thriving offensively even though he’s better known for his defense:
The Timberwolves climbed within 51-44 by halftime after Wiggins scored his 18th point on a beautiful floater in the lane. Jordan and Bass answered with a combined 23 points against Minnesota’s problematic interior defense.
Rivers’ move against Nemanja Bjelica underscored the defensive issues for the visitors:
Los Angeles started the second half where it left off in the first and pushed the lead to 11 with a step-back three from Rivers. The 24-year-old had eight of the first 10 Clippers points in the third quarter and was making up for the loss of Paul with his shooting touch.
Minnesota didn’t go away during the quarter and provided answers nearly every time the Clippers extended the lead back to double digits. An and-1 from Gorgui Dieng made it 71-65, and Shabazz Muhammad scored in transition after a Towns steal to cut the deficit to four.
The two sides settled into a back-and-forth for the rest of the quarter, but a Towns putback slam and two free throws from Wiggins trimmed the Clippers’ lead to 79-77 heading to the fourth.
Jones kept the Minnesota offense afloat early in the fourth with a three and a perfectly placed assist to Bjelica to help cut an 83-77 deficit to 85-82. Los Angeles went back to the well with Jordan to stop the momentum, and he responded with a tomahawk dunk:
It was one of three dunks from Jordan in a two-minute span, but Towns answered with two of his own as Minnesota continued its pattern of bouncing back from nearly every Los Angeles basket. Towns threw down another assist from Jones to make it 93-91 with less than five minutes left.
The Timberwolves then started intentionally fouling Jordan, and a Towns three made it 97-96 after the big man went 2-of-6 from the line during the previous few possessions. Rodger Sherman of The Ringer said: “Towns hitting a three looks like you have the video game on too low of a difficulty setting.”
Towns tied the game at 98 with a jumper, but a Jordan free throw and Jamal Crawford runner when there were less than two minutes left (and Minnesota could no longer intentionally foul) made it 101-98. Towns responded with yet another basket and then drilled a jumper right over Jordan to give the Timberwolves their first lead since the second quarter.
J.J. Redick missed his ensuing shot, and Wiggins hit two free throws after grabbing a critical offensive rebound. Los Angeles had one more chance to tie with a three, but Redick and Crawford each missed desperation heaves.
Rivers discussed the loss, per Rowan Kavner of the Clippers’ official website: “When you have so many key guys out, you only have so small a margin…we were outside that margin.”
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said there is a chance Griffin could play in the team’s upcoming road trip, per Kavner.
Doc Rivers also talked about Towns’ outing, per Woike: “He was unbelievable. He made a ton of shots. … He made us pay.”
Mitchell Hansen of the Timberwolves’ official website noted Towns praised a teammate in his postgame interview with TNT: “First of all, I want to give a big shoutout to Kris Dunn. He stepped up big with Ricky out.”
Towns talked about his overall performance, per Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: “Every possession, especially in the fourth quarter, is the same way I approach every possession during the game. Every single shot is the game-winning shot. You’ve got to make every single shot if you expect to win this game, especially against the Clippers.”
The Clippers start a five-game road trip on Saturday against the Denver Nuggets. They are trying to remain afloat without their two main pieces and can’t afford long losing streaks in the Western Conference, even on the road.
The Timberwolves return home Sunday against the Nuggets and then face the Phoenix Suns on the road Tuesday. They were four games back of Denver for the No. 8 seed in the West coming into play Thursday and could use a head-to-head win.Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com