Karl-Anthony Towns delivered a performance for the ages Saturday night in Philadelphia.
The Timberwolves center compiled 39 points, 14 rebounds and five assists with just two turnovers, outplaying 76ers all-star Joel Embiid in Minnesota’s 122-113 loss. The Wolves outplayed Philadelphia when Towns was on the floor.
The big man played 44 minutes.
Forty-four minutes on the second half of a back-to-back.
“Wanted it. Wanted the win,” Towns said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to have the chance to win and do whatever. If it required playing 44 minutes tonight, I was going to do it. Just performed. Go out there, no excuses.”
Towns is done with those. He’s done with stat chasing. He’s done with celebrating personal successes. He just wants to win. That’s where his sole focus lies. It’s why he didn’t get caught up in any personal games with Embiid on Saturday, even after the 76ers’ big man bear-hugged him on a drive to the rack. Those things don’t matter.
“I can’t be falling into narratives and all the hoopla and (stuff) that’s around me and the noise,” Towns said. “I got to go out there and try to win the game. I wasn’t trying to go out there to prove a point or do all that. The 39 I had (Saturday), that’s just me trying to get this win for this team, doing whatever it takes. Being scrappy, being physical. Doing whatever it takes. That’s for us to win, that’s not for me to have a moment for myself. I don’t need that.”
The physicality, that toughness, the insistence on doing every little thing necessary to win, those are new priorities for Towns. That work used to be left to guys like Taj Gibson. The young Wolves don’t have much in the way of dirty work players. So Towns will take that role, too.
“I’ve got to do more,” Towns said. “If that requires me to be myself with a little more Taj Gibson out there, too, and make those tough plays and do the dirty work, then I’m going to have to do that for us to have a chance to win.”
Towns has achieved the stats and accolades. He’s been an all-star, he’s been All-NBA, he got paid. What else is left but to win? The narrative surrounding him is that he cannot. Towns is out to prove that just because he hasn’t, that doesn’t mean he won’t.
“At the end of the day, the word on me is still going to be the word. There’s only one way to change the narrative, and that’s to go beat the narrative, and I’ve got to go do whatever I can, every single day, to take a step forward in changing this direction we in with losing all these games and stuff,” Towns said. “When I go home, I drive my car, I eat food, all that (stuff) don’t work the same. When you’re younger, it’s like ‘Well, but my friends say I did cool, and I did this and that,’ and it’s great. That sounds great. I’m older now. I’ve been blessed
“But now, what can I do to build on my legacy? What can I do? The legacy is not about stats anymore. I’ve proven myself. Now it’s more about can I get us to win? And that’s a long-winded answer, but that’s just how I feel every single day. … When you don’t really got no wins to show for it, you having an empty trip back home.”
These are messages Towns has tried to get across at various points in his career, but often it’s been interpreted as hot air.
“I guess maybe because I’m saying it too nice or I guess it doesn’t feel genuine to people enough, but it’s really how I felt,” Towns said. “I came to this organization to win.”
Towns said he truly sacrificed his life to do so. His mom died on Easter last year, so this weekend has extra meaning to him. He reflected Saturday on times when his mom would ask him to come over and spend time with the family, and Towns would politely decline because he had to go to the gym.
“I threw parts of my life away that I should’ve enjoyed more for the love of the game and to get this city a win and to just be competitive every night and doing what I can to produce,” Towns said. “I sacrificed my life because when she left, my life was over. That was it to me. So I gave my life to basketball. I gave my life to Minnesota. Yeah, it changes the way you think.”
Anyone who questions Towns’ commitment merely has to watch him play right now. He’s committing himself on both ends of the floor, scoring, making little plays and leading.
“KAT’s performances have been outstanding. He’s putting it out there,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said.
One of the narratives following Towns in the past was that the center was “soft.” That couldn’t be further from the truth at the moment — mentally or physically.
“Completely unfair assessment. Just because you’re skilled doesn’t mean you’re soft,” Finch said. “I haven’t seen it since I’ve been here. He’s laying it out there for us right now, for me. Very grateful for that.”
Timberwolves fans should be, too. Will Towns lead Minnesota to glory? That remains to be seen. But he’s giving that pursuit his very best shot.
“If we want to talk about everything that could happen next season, we got to start now,” Towns said. “It starts by setting the foundation, and I know we say it a lot but we got to keep emphasizing it, every single time we step on this court, it’s important for the growth of this team and organization, and it starts with me.”