MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns has long stated his contentment with contributing in a variety of ways to Minnesota’s game, even if he’s not taking — or making — many shots.
The problem for Towns and the Timberwolves is the three-time All-Star center also has stymied their success at times.
In four postseason games, including the play-in tournament victory that gave the Wolves the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and this first-round matchup with Memphis, Towns has 19 fouls.
He spent 3:56 on the bench in the first half of the fourth quarter in Game 3 on Thursday night after picking up his fifth foul, the stretch when the Grizzlies completed their comeback from a 25-point late-third-quarter deficit and took the lead for good. They won 104-95 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
“We’re talking to him,” coach Chris Finch said. “It’s the offensive fouls that really are hurting us more than anything else. Those are the ones we’ve got to clean up.”
Towns had three offensive fouls in Game 3, twice when he was setting a high screen.
“Even crashing from the outside, I’ve stopped that just to possibly take any idea of giving me a foul out,” Towns said. “Just got to work through the adversity, honestly. That’s really it.”
Each time Towns was pulled after a foul, he brought a dark cloud of bad body language with him to the bench. His teammates are often quick to encourage him or lend an ear to his venting about the officiating, but in the seventh year of his career he ought to be well past letting frustration compound itself into another mistake.
His postgame answer to a question about keeping team spirits high in the wake of a devastating loss — “go home, drink some wine, and move on” — offered a sanguine perspective. His demeanor on the court suggested otherwise.
The previous two seasons were a wash for Towns, in light of the heartbreaking death of his mother from COVID-19, his own difficult bout with the virus and multiple injuries to boot. More roster churn and another change in coaches, from his confidant Ryan Saunders to the outsider Finch, added another layer of complexity.
This season has been so much smoother, with the best chemistry the team has had since Towns entered the league as the first pick in the 2015 draft.
He has shown an increased awareness in the post, with the determination to confidently attack a smaller opponent in the post complementing the skill to pass out of trouble to a teammate on a squad that led the NBA with an average of 14.8 made 3-pointers during the regular season. Then there’s his own outside shooting prowess, proven anew when he won the 3-point contest during the All-Star weekend skills showcase.
Too often, though, Towns lets his emotions overshadow his talent.
Sometimes, he seems to be overcorrecting for past criticisms of him being too soft on the court, whether directing a taunting glare at the man guarding him following a dunk or going so hard at the basket he has a whistle go against him instead of drawing the foul and getting to the line.
Perhaps he just needs more time on the NBA’s biggest stage. Including the play-in game, Towns has only nine postseason games on his resume. The Timberwolves are 3-6 in those games.
“KAT is the main piece of what we try to go on here. Obviously, when he’s in foul trouble, it doesn’t help us,” teammate Patrick Beverley said.
In fairness to Towns, the rest of the Timberwolves were a letdown too.
When the Grizzlies were making their runs, the guards missed too many outside shots. Towns had five of the team’s 11 blocks, a franchise playoff-game record, but the Grizzlies did plenty of damage in the paint when he wasn’t in there. He also simply didn’t get the ball enough, as evidenced by his paltry total of four field-goal attempts.
“Next question,” Towns snapped when asked about the lack of touches. He elaborated on the art of playing through the double teams a little later in his interview session.
The Grizzlies put Kyle Anderson on him to start the game and just might stick with that.
“Just trying to really take on the challenge,” Anderson said. “Just use my length with him, try to force him to the basket where I have help and things like that. Just try to make it hard on him.”
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