The Minnesota Timberwolves might be the most woebegone franchise in the NBA over the last 20 years this side of the Sacramento Kings. The Wolves have perennially been league-wide bottom-feeders since Kevin Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics back in 2007, with the team missing the playoffs in 16 of the last 17 years entering this season. That dubious history is part of what made the Wolves’ resurgence so fun this year: by winning by 46 games and earning their spot in the NBA Playoffs with a dramatic play-in tournament victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota could legitimately claim this as the organization’s most fulfilling season since their conference finals run at the peak of the KG era back in 2004.
The Wolves drew the No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, another young team that far exceeded expectations this season. What felt like a tough matchup for Minnesota on paper suddenly turned favorable when the Wolves ran away with Game 1 as the offense scored 130 points. Memphis bounced back to take Game 2 and tie the series heading to Minnesota for Game 3.
The Wolves came out on fire in Game 3, building a 47-21 lead just minutes into the second quarter. TNT had Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns mic’d up for the game, and caught him proudly saying “We in Minnesota now” as his team held a big lead.
The Grizzlies would close the gap to single-digits by halftime, but another big run in the third by the Wolves helped push the lead to 79-54 with under three minutes left in the quarter.
From then on, the Grizzlies went on a torrid run that resulted in one of the most humiliating playoff collapses of all-time for Minnesota.
The Grizzlies went on a 42-12 run in the last 13 minutes to take home a 104-95 win. The Grizzlies now lead the series 2-1, and it’s fair to wonder how Minnesota can come back from this.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Start with Wolves head coach Chris Finch, who didn’t take a timeout as the Grizzlies went on a 24-2 run in the fourth quarter. It was also easy to focus on Towns, who somehow only attempted four field goals all game and finished with eight points on the night as he battled foul trouble.
After the game, Grizzlies star Ja Morant had a little fun at Towns’ expense.
Oh dear. Towns didn’t make matters any better after the game. He sounded like someone who knows his performance in this loss is going to stick in people’s minds for a long time.
Karl-Anthony Towns when asked what he can do as a leader to pick up the group:
“Go home, drink some wine and move on to the next day. That’s really simple. Just decompress, decompress.”
— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) April 22, 2022
Morant’s tweet seemed to start an NBA-wide roast on Towns. This time, it feels fair. Yes, Towns was the focal point of Memphis’ defensive game plan, and you can credit him to some extent for moving the ball to teammates and not forcing bad shots. At the same time, a superstar big man — and that’s what Towns is — has to score more than eight points in a critical playoff game.
Charles Barkley went in on Towns during TNT’s “Inside the NBA” after the game:
The internet didn’t let Towns off the hook either. He was crushed for hours after the game.
This series right here is why you don’t call KAT the greatest shooting big man ever over players who do it when the lights are bright
— D.O.C (@darwinchvz320) April 22, 2022
Karl Anthony-Towns is in his 7th year. He’s 26. He’s not a guy you can go to to get a bucket when it matters. Time to move on. https://t.co/bI1a2qhkbi
— NoTechBen (@NoTechBen) April 22, 2022
Karl Towns press conference after that loss, the one in which the Wolves blew a 26 point lead and he had 8 points and 5 fouls, is flat out embarrassing. Just straight up ducking any accountability.
— Adam (@SouvenirCity) April 22, 2022
The reality is that Towns is one of the 15 or so best players in the NBA. He had a tremendous season — 24.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game with 41 percent shooting from three-point range. For as impressive as those numbers are, reputations are forged in the playoffs. Before this season, Towns’ reputation — fairly or not — was as a star who couldn’t impact winning enough to make the Wolves’ a viable playoff threat in the West. Now it feels like he’ll be branded as a guy who can’t get it done in the playoffs.
Towns has struggled against the Grizzlies, to be sure. While it feels like this game and the subsequent roasting of his performance will be impossible to come back from, all Towns needs to do is bounce back in Game 4 and lead Minnesota to a win to silence critics. We’ve seen that the Wolves’ best effort can out-play Memphis in this series. They just weren’t able to put the game away on Thursday.
KAT better be locked in the rest of this series. If he’s not, Game 3 feels like it’s going to be one of the most defining performances of his career, and not in a good way.