This is Karl-Anthony Towns' seventh season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, his status well established as the franchise player for this long-languishing organization.
For the first time in his NBA career, Towns has said often, he's feeling fully appreciated.
His latest feat was quite the showstopper: a franchise-record 60 points in a 149-139 win at San Antonio on Monday night. Towns did it in just 36 minutes, too.
“He’s just that talented. He’s just that type of player,” teammate D'Angelo Russell said. “You look up and see 60 and the whole team happy. That’s everybody being selfless about it. I think that was more of what I appreciated. The performance was amazing, but everybody wanted to see it, too.”
As Towns conducted a postgame television interview on the court, multiple teammates snuck up behind him and mischievously doused his head with water to mark the occasion of the most points scored by a NBA player this season.
The Timberwolves, from the bench to the locker room, have cheered each other on with childlike enthusiasm and a selflessness like no other in team history.
“I appreciate it so much, because I ain’t never been celebrated,” said Towns, whose previous career best was a 56-point game against Atlanta on March 28, 2018. “They make these moments special.”
Affable and emotional, Towns has been known to speak in hyperbole like this. The difference in chemistry with this team compared to the others he's played on in Minnesota is clear. Towns also has emerged from a grueling couple of seasons dealing with injuries and, of course, COVID-19. His mother died of complications from the virus in 2020.
As Towns poignantly noted on Twitter on Tuesday morning, his 60-point game was two years to the day that his mother, Jackie Cruz-Towns, was hospitalized in New Jersey with COVID-19.
“I've just got a stronger guardian angel than I’ve ever had,” Towns said. “I feel that I was set up for success by God. I really can’t explain it. I just feel like I was set up for success this year after everything I’ve been through, just having these group of guys around. I’ve never had that kind of camaraderie and unity and chemistry since college. To kind of have everyone, one through 15, buy into everything we’re doing, it makes years like this possible.”
Towns, who became the rare post player to win the NBA's 3-point contest at All-Star weekend last month, has helped the Timberwolves (40-30) strengthen their grip on seventh place in the Western Conference. It would keep them at home for the play-in tournament if they don't catch sixth-place Denver (41-28).
The Timberwolves have won two of three games against the Nuggets this season, with a April 1 visit to Denver looming large. At 10 games above .500, it's their best in four years, finishing the 2017-18 season at 47-35. That’s the only time they’ve been to the playoffs since 2004, when Towns was 8 years old.
“People clearly see how incredibly talented KAT is and what he’s able to do, and they also see that there will be nights where he takes maybe eight or 10 shots and does whatever else the game needs, whether it be rebounding, defensive presence in there,” coach Chris Finch said. “He’s really responding well to his teammates. He’s a guy like all of us: We need the confidence of our teammates to be our best version of ourselves.”