This was always Jacqueline Cruz-Towns’ favorite game, when her family could gather to watch her son play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
She died of complications related to COVID-19 in April 2020, but Karl-Anthony Towns’ father, sister and other friends and family were in the arena Tuesday night.
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He gave them a great memory — and the Minnesota Timberwolves a big victory.
Towns converted a go-ahead three-point play with 29 seconds left and the Timberwolves edged the Knicks 112-110.
Towns, who grew up nearby in New Jersey, looked up toward the roof on his first trip to the free throw line, a way of remembering his mother.
His last trip to the line ended up winning the game.
“I told my dad everyone’s going to get a chance to have their Madison Square Garden moment and I felt that was for me tonight. That was the biggest moment that I’ve had in MSG,” Towns said. “Great crowd, great atmosphere, great energy and I got to silence everybody, so that makes it even better.”
The Knicks got a strong game from Kemba Walker in his return from a nine-game absence with a sore left knee and nursed a lead for most of the fourth quarter.
But the Timberwolves rallied and then held on when Alec Burks missed a 3-pointer that would have won it for New York.
“I definitely wanted to win, but we’ve got to keep grinding it out,” Walker said. “This league is hard. It’s hard to win games in this league.”
Anthony Edwards scored 21 points and Towns had 20 for the Wolves, who won for the sixth time in eight games to level their record at 22-22. D’Angelo Russell added 17 points.
Evan Fournier scored 27 points and Julius Randle had 21 for the Knicks, who lost for the second straight day and dipped back below .500 at 22-23. Walker scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half.
“It was a hard-fought game and didn’t get it done down the stretch,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Knicks were protecting one-point leads when Walker made 3-pointers with 5:27 and 4:36 remaining, and his third straight made it 107-102 with 3:41 to play.
But the Wolves didn’t allow another basket and forced a couple big turnovers.
“I think that was key to turn it around,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “We got a couple steals right there and that led us to easy buckets.”
Minnesota got the ball back for the pivotal possession after an instant replay review overturned a call and ruled the ball out of bounds off the Knicks with 48 seconds left. Towns made a strong move and scored while being fouled by Randle, making it 111-109.
Randle was fouled on the other end but made only one free throw, leaving Minnesota ahead by one. Patrick Beverley made one free throw with 19 seconds left and that was it for the scoring.
Towns scored 11 points in the first quarter, helping Minnesota take a 30-23 lead. The Wolves pushed their lead to 12 in the second quarter before taking a 61-51 lead to the break.
The Knicks scored 40 points in the third, taking a 91-86 lead to the fourth.
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Timberwolves: Jaylen Norwell scored 14 points. … The Wolves, who lead the NBA in turnovers forced, forced the Knicks into 18.
Knicks: Both New York centers, Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson, fouled out. A third center, Nerlens Noel, remains out with a sore left knee. … RJ Barrett had 17 points.
MONITORING THE MINUTES
With Walker’s return and rookie Quentin Grimes getting regular rotation minutes lately, the Knicks have plenty of players vying for backcourt minutes. Thibodeau said that would be sorted out step by step.
“You earn your minutes here with what you do in practice and then you have to wait for your opportunity,” he said. “When your opportunity comes, be ready to go. But as I mentioned to you guys before, there’s a finite amount of minutes. There’s 240 minutes. So the guys who are performing well and get the job done, they’re in there.”
Timberwolves: Visit Atlanta on Wednesday.
Knicks: Host New Orleans on Thursday.