Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards Keep Hope Alive in Minnesota

The Timberwolves staved off elimination in Game 4. Can their star duo pull off a historic comeback?
Towns (right) stepped up big in Game 4 to keep Minnesota alive in the series.
Towns (right) stepped up big in Game 4 to keep Minnesota alive in the series. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Karl-Anthony Towns made his way to the podium on Tuesday and as he settled into a chair you half expected him to pull a hit list out of his pocket. For two days Towns was a 7-foot piñata, a pincushion for pundits who watched his play in the first three games of the Western Conference finals and instantly wanted to forget. As reporters began to question Towns about his play in Game 4, a 105–100 win that sends this series back to Minnesota, his teammate, Anthony Edwards, interrupted.

“He was,” Edwards said bluntly, “the reason we won tonight.”

Indeed. It was 25 points, five rebounds and a whole different approach for Towns on Tuesday. For three games Dallas had marginalized Towns, turned an All-Star into an afterthought, turned an All-NBA big man into a one-dimensional three-point shooter. Inside Minnesota’s locker room teammates implored him: Be aggressive. Enough with the three-pointers. Get to the rim.

Towns did, and perhaps changed the complexion of this series in the process. He bulldozed his way to the bucket for four points in the first quarter. He muscled his way to 10 more in the third. Knocked down, shots blocked, it didn’t matter—Towns kept coming. Foul trouble forced T-Wolves coach Chris Finch to pull him but it didn’t slow him in the fourth. Forced to respect the drive, Towns knocked down three threes down the stretch before fouling out late in the quarter.

“KAT's a great player,” said Finch. “His struggles were not going to last forever.”

There has always needed to be a balance to Towns’s offense. He’s an elite perimeter player, one of the best three-point shooting big men of all-time. But Minnesota has shooters. Edwards and Mike Conley, Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. They needed Towns to play big. In Game 4 he did just that.

“Everything came together for him,” Edwards said. “He was super confident. He wasn't worried about any shots previous to the shots that he hit tonight. He played exceptionally well and he came through big time.”

Said Finch, “When he is super decisive, shot ready, plays off the catch, doesn't hold … [Daniel] Gafford got him a few times at the rim, but I like the fact that he just kept going.”

Towns kept going and now Minnesota is, too. This wasn’t a game for the Timberwolves as much as a war of attrition. They lost Towns, Edwards and Rudy Gobert to foul trouble in the second quarter but still managed to be tied at the half. All three battled foul problems in the third but timely three-point shooting helped build a five-point lead. When a Kyrie Irving floater cut the lead to three late in the fourth, Edwards hit back with a 22-footer to put the game away.

“I just love the aggression we played with today,” said Towns. “You could tell that we had that desperation that makes us special.”

This has been a challenging series for Edwards, forced to defend an elite scorer on one end and carry the offensive burden on the other. There were questions about whether his gas tank had run dry. Inside the Wolves locker room, they knew different. There was a noticeable energy to Edwards after Game 3. “Just very energetic, very alive,” said Conley. “Which it could have been the complete opposite.” Before the game, Edwards got a text from Tom Crean, his former coach at Georgia. Play with joy, Crean texted. That’s when you’re at your best. At halftime, there was another. It stuck with Edwards. The result: 29 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

“I feel like last game I did [have] it early and then as the game kept going, my emotions, my joy started to fall away,” said Edwards. “I think tonight, the entire game, I didn't let anything bother me.”

Minnesota has life, but as the team heads home for Thursday’s Game 5, the question is: Do they have momentum? They are still down 3–1, still facing elimination, still faced with the task of containing one of the most dynamic backcourts in NBA history. No team in league history has rallied from a 3–0 deficit to win a series, and the Timberwolves still have a long way to go. Yet while the Mavs will play better—Derrick Lively missed Game 4 with a neck injury while Irving and Luka Doncic combined to shoot 13-for-39 from the floor—Minnesota believes it can, too.

“I think that we still haven't played our best basketball yet as a group,” said Conley. “We still have a lot of room to improve. So that's the exciting part about our situation. We just know that there's a lot more in the tank.”

In Edwards, certainly. After finishing a postgame interview, he headed toward the locker room and delivered a message to those standing near it: See you for Game 6. Later, Edwards bumped into Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. On his chest, Parsons sported a Doncic jersey. On his feet, a pair of Edwards’s signature shoes. Parsons told Edwards he wore size 14. Edwards told him he would bring a pair back with him.

Minnesota got a win, and now it will have to build on it. “We get another chance to get another one,” said Towns. “Pretty simple.” Win at home, steal another one on the road and, hey, anything can happen. It’s one game at a time now for the Wolves, one game to stave off elimination, one game closer to making history.


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Chris Mannix

CHRIS MANNIX

Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Mannix has boxed with Juan Manuel Marquez, played guard in the NBA's D-League and even tried his hand at bull riding at the Sankey Rodeo School in Martin, Tenn. The latter assignment left him with a bunch of bruises and a fractured collarbone. "I liked all the first-person experiences, but fighting Juan was my favorite assignment for SI," says Mannix. "It was a tremendous experience that required brutal training and introduced me to a fear I never knew I had." Mannix has covered the NBA since he arrived at SI in 2003. He currently writes columns and profiles in the magazine and for SI.com and also serves as SI's NBA draft expert. Among the NBA stars he has profiled: Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and Andrei Kirilenko. As a teenager Mannix was a locker room attendant with the Boston Celtics for eight seasons (1995-2003) and covered high school sports for the Boston Globe. "Working for the Celtics was like attending a different fantasy camp every game. I spent pregames D'ing up the likes of Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen and yes, Michael Jordan. Last time I went one-on-one with MJ he beat me 48-0. I got one shot off … and it was blocked." Boxing is also one of Mannix's specialties. He has reported for SI on several championship fights, annually hands out SI.com's boxing awards and writes the website's "Inside Boxing" column. Mannix won the 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America's awards for Best Feature over 1,750 words and Best Feature under 1,750 words. In addition to his duties at SI, Mannix serves as host of The Chris Mannix Show on NBC Sports Radio (Sundays 6–9 p.m. ET) and is a co-host of Voices of the Game, with Newy Scruggs every Wednesday from Noon–3 p.m. ET. In addition, Mannix is a ringside reporter for Epix and Fight Night on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and is a regular guest and fill-in host on The Dan Patrick Show and The Crossover on NBC Sports Network. He also regularly appears on sports radio shows across the country, including weekly appearances in Miami, Orlando and Salt Lake City.  Mannix received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College in 2003 and graduated from Boston College High School in 1998 (which makes him a double Eagle). He resides in New York City.