Wolves rally to win season opener
Minnesota used a 22-6 run in the fourth quarter to catch and overtake the Detroit Pistons.
MINNEAPOLIS — Karl-Anthony Towns had the ball in his hands at the conclusion of Minnesota’s opening 111-101 opening night victory over Detroit on Wednesday at Target Center when D’Angelo Russell came over.
“Don’t throw the ball, keep the ball,” Russell said. “That’s for moms. That’s for moms.”
It’s been just eight months since Towns’ mother, Jackie Towns, died from complications related to COVID-19 on April 13, and the pain remains in full force. Towns still isn’t quite sure how to properly portray to others just how much his mother meant to him.
“I wouldn’t be sitting in this chair if it wasn’t for her. I wouldn’t be alive,” he said. “She saved my life multiple, multiple times when I didn’t think I would get here. That’s why I think it’s such a different pain than even y’all recognize.”
The joy that his playing gave her was one of the main reasons he loved basketball so much. Towns hasn’t made it through a pregame introduction yet this season without breaking down thinking about his mother. Wednesday was no different.
The Timberwolves had a pregame tribute to Jackie planned for before the game. The team showed Karl Towns Sr. the video Tuesday. After viewing it, he Facetimed his son. Karl-Anthony immediately noted his father’s red eyes.
“I knew it was not going to be good for me,” Towns said.
Still, that tribute, and the ensuing moment of silence in his mother’s honor, meant so much to Towns, as does this team. He wants badly for it to succeed, and he was the primary reason it did so Wednesday.
The Wolves weren’t great for much of the game, as was expected for a young team with a lot of new pieces and not much time to prepare ahead of the regular season. Minnesota never led in the game’s first 44 minutes but claimed an advantage when Towns buried a triple with 3 minutes, 38 seconds to play. That started a string of 15 straight points the all-star center either scored or assisted.
Towns was sensational, finishing with 22 points — on just 10 shots — 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.
“He played in a way where he wasn’t going to let us lose in the end,” Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders said.
Which says a lot for a man playing in his first regular-season contest since losing his mother, and six other family members, in the midst of a global pandemic. But Towns made a promise to be there for his teammates, no matter what.
“When you go through what I’ve been through, you just find a different source of strength. I don’t know how to explain it,” Towns said. “No matter how bad my situation is and how (messed) up my life is, I’m going to keep being here for these guys, regardless of what it is.”
And he’s going to smile for them, too. He feels he owes it to them as their teammate and leader, even though no such smile exists internally. Only pain.
Towns was asked after Wednesday’s game if he’s just taking things day by day at the moment and how that compares to his previous approaches. It was an impossible question for him to answer. Nothing from his past seems all that relevant.
“That (previous) Karl died on April 13th. He’s never coming back. I don’t remember that man. I don’t know that man,” Towns said. “You’re talking to the physical me, but my soul has been killed off a long time ago. I want to really answer your question. I really do. But I only know how I feel from April 13th on. To say it’s been day by day is probably an understatement. I think it’s more moment by moment.”
He’s enduring. Surviving, really.
He’s grateful for his niece and nephew, who were waiting for him at his home after the game, and his sister. He’s grateful for his father, who he knew was watching on TV. That game ball is going to be sent straight to his dad’s house.
“I’m going to put it next to my mom,” he said on TV after the game. “I’m just happy I got this for her. I told her I wanted to get her this win and get her this ball, so I’m just happy I was able to get it done.”