The Timberwolves’ epic choke in a 104-95 loss to Memphis in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series on Thursday at Target Center was filled with gaffes that contributed to one of the most embarrassing meltdowns in Minnesota sports playoff history.
But the one that tops the list isn’t up for debate.
That would be Karl-Anthony Towns latest no-show in a huge game when his team needed him most. Towns’ box score line tells the story: 33 minutes, 3-of-4 from the field, 0-of-1 from three-point range, 2-of-2 from the free-throw line, five rebounds, one assist, five fouls, four turnovers, five blocked shots and eight points.
That would be bad enough. But anyone who watched Towns pout his way through another uninspired performance in which he played as if the world was out to get him saw the latest example that a player can have superstar talent but it doesn’t mean a damn thing if he has no mental toughness. Towns has proven that at the first sign of trouble in a big game he not only will disappear but he will do it while putting on an Oscar worthy woe-is-me act.
Towns isn’t just convinced the opponent is out to get him, he also thinks the referees have it in for him and with each foul called he lets everyone know it.
Towns was in his age 22 season when he first showed signs of having little ability to play when it mattered most. That came in the Wolves’ first-round loss to the Houston Rockets in a series that went five games. Towns, playing on a team that was led by Jimmy Butler, scored only eight and five points in the first two games and earned the ridicule of TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. Towns responded a bit in the final three games — scoring 18, 22 and 23 points — and was given a mulligan by many Wolves fans, despite the fact it soon became clear Butler had little respect for his teammates approach.
Towns might have been given the benefit of the doubt in 2018, but with the Wolves’ two games from first-round elimination he now only deserves contempt for his far-too-often lousy performances and failure to come close to playing like he often does when the pressure is lessened because the lights aren’t bright.
The 26-year-old provided a worrisome no-show in the Wolves’ 109-104 victory over the Clippers in their play-in game on April 12 at Target Center. Towns was 3-for-11 from the field, including 0-for-2 on three-pointers, en route to scoring 11 points in 24 minutes before fouling out. Wolves coach Chris Finch expressed no concern with Towns’ awful performance but it was alarming that the Anthony Edwards- and D’Angelo Russell-led Wolves were better that night when Towns was pouting on the bench.
Towns rebounded in the Wolves’ victory over Memphis in Game 1 to score 29 points, grab 13 rebounds and stay out of foul trouble. But in a 28-point loss to the Grizzlies in Game 2, Towns had 15 points and took only seven shots (after taking 18 in Game 1) and again found himself in foul trouble.
That was nothing compared to what Wolves fans were subjected to on Thursday night. A sell out crowd of 19,634 packed Target Center and provided the soundtrack to what should have been a run away victory. The Wolves took a 12-0 lead and were up by 26 points in the first half. After Memphis pulled within 51-44 at halftime, the Wolves again got hot and increased their lead to 25 points in the third quarter.
Towns’ ineptitude appeared as if it might be only a small part of the story. Thatwas until the Grizzlies went on a 21-0 run that extended into the fourth quarter and tied the score at 83 with 8 minutes, 33 seconds remaining. The Grizzlies outscored the Wolves, 37-12, in the final quarter to earn the victory and take a 2-1 lead with Game 4 set for Saturday at Target Center.
Towns’ four field-goal attempts were his fewest in any game of his seven-year NBA career. Finch said the Grizzlies “swarm” Towns everywhere. That’s what they should do considering Towns is a super-max player who soon could be looking for another huge payday. It’s Towns’ ability to overcome the opponent on the big stage that makes him worth paying. His complete inability to do so should have alarms going off all over Target Center.
Butler might have been misguided in how he want about expressing his disdain for Towns, but more and more it’s looking as if he was exactly right and more and more it appears Towns’ inability to deliver in the clutch is a problem that will never go away. That’s a real issue considering the Wolves have a young star in Anthony Edwards and it’s unlikely he’s going to want to be paired with a player who appears to have no interest in embracing the moment.
So what’s the answer?
It might have to be moving on from Towns. After all, what’s the point of having an All-Star regular-season player who becomes nothing more than an All-Star pouter when the games really matter?