MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With the Minnesota Timberwolves badly needing to win after blowing it the night before and the game hanging in the balance, Karl-Anthony Towns took over.
Towns did so against one of his most daunting opponents, too, furthering his place as the franchise leader.
With 27 points and a career-high 27 rebounds, the most in the NBA this season, Towns helped the Timberwolves fend off Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans for a 110-106 victory on Saturday night, the first at home for interim head coach Ryan Saunders.
“I just want to be the energy my team needs on a nightly basis,” Towns said, “and if they need more I’ve got to be able to bring it.”
Towns swished a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to make it 106-103 with 2:55 left, giving the Timberwolves the lead for good. Then Towns blocked a 3-point try by Davis on the other end, triggering a fast break that Tyus Jones finished with a layup.
“We need him to set the tone for us, and we’ve got to follow his lead,” said Jones, who took the final 17½ minutes at point guard for the ailing Jeff Teague.
Davis had 30 points and 14 rebounds for his 13th consecutive double-double. Jrue Holiday added 25 points and seven assists for the Pelicans, who pulled within 108-106 on Holiday’s three-point play with 2:23 remaining.
But Towns blocked another 3-point attempt by Davis with 1:37 left that would have put the Pelicans in front, and the Timberwolves took it from there. Jones and Dario Saric each added 14 points on 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point range off the bench to help offset a 7-for-33 performance behind the arc by the rest of the team.
The Pelicans shot 20 for 29 from the floor over the final three minutes of the first half through the third quarter to take an 89-87 lead, but they faltered late.
“They were better coached. They played harder. They did everything they had to, to win the game, and we didn’t,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “That’s the bottom line. We didn’t rebound the basketball, we turned it over, and I’m as much to blame as anybody.”
This was a critical game for the Wolves, coming off a four-point loss to Dallas here the night before and facing some serious catching up to do in the relentless Western Conference race in order to return to the playoffs. The Mavericks, Pelicans and Wolves all entered the evening tied for 11th place, 2½ games below the cut.
The Wolves played without second-leading scorer Derrick Rose, who has missed all three games against the Pelicans this season, for precaution on the second of the back-to-back nights because of his return on Friday from a six-game absence to a sprained right ankle.
The Pelicans brought a similar urgency, beginning a stretch of five straight road games against Western Conference foes. They had losing streaks of four, five and six straight games over the first half of their schedule, slumps that will loom large down the stretch.
“We can finish this trip 4-1,” Davis said, adding: “We’ve got to come in with a defensive mindset going into the rest of these games, these next four games.”
Pelicans: Julius Randle had his 21st double-double of the season, with 22 points and 11 rebounds. … E’Twaun Moore (bruised left quadriceps) returned from a two-game absence but had only two points on 1-for-6 shooting in 31 minutes.
Timberwolves: Teague, who had two points and 10 assists in 21 minutes, aggravated near the end of the first half a left ankle injury that recently kept him out for nine games. … Rookie Josh Okogie matched his season high with 17 points and played a season-most 42 minutes.
BIG BLUE BIG MEN
Davis and Towns were both first overall picks in the draft, three years apart from the professional basketball player factory at Kentucky under coach John Calipari. Whether or not Davis and Towns actually play with more intensity against each other is difficult to gauge, but their lines in the box score are almost always full.
“I’m sure Cal uses this as a recruiting tool,” Gentry said, “but you’re playing against great Kentucky players every night in this league so it’s not a big deal to those guys.”
Over their first five meetings in Minnesota, Towns averaged 25.2 points and 13.8 rebounds against New Orleans. Davis averaged 30.4 points and 10 rebounds.
“It was a lot of Kentucky on Kentucky crime we had to go through,” Towns said.
Saunders summoned Luol Deng in the second quarter for a spark, and he pitched in five points in five minutes. Over the last two seasons, the 15-year NBA veteran has logged a total of just 50 minutes, but Saunders eagerly greeted him at halfcourt at the first whistle after his corner 3-pointer.
“He gave us a lot of confidence,” Towns said.
Pelicans: Face the Clippers in Los Angeles on Monday.
Timberwolves: Play at Philadelphia on Tuesday, their first game against the 76ers since All-Star Jimmy Butler was traded there two months ago. The Wolves are 17-13 since the deal.