MINNEAPOLIS – Angry after two rough games, Karl-Anthony Towns had to channel his emotions in a productive way — a skill he's still trying to master.
Towns found his peace at the free-throw line. Seventeen tries gave him plenty of time to stay calm.
He roared back with a career playoff-best 33 points and 14 rebounds, helping the Timberwolves recover from their Game 3 collapse and pull out a 119-118 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night to even the first-round series at 2-2.
“Just taking a chill pill, calming down and understanding the next game, there's another chance,” said Towns, who hit 14 of his foul shots — including a pair of makes with 4.4 seconds left.
Anthony Edwards scored 24 points and backup Jordan McLaughlin, who didn't play in Game 3, went 4 for 4 from 3-point range for 16 points.
The Timberwolves relentlessly attacked the basket and were rewarded with 40 free throws, 31 of which they made. Memphis was called for 33 fouls.
“I have never seen a more inconsistent and arrogant officiated game,” said Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins. “I'll take whatever hit's coming my way."
Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant offered to cover their coach's inevitable fine. The Memphis starting five had a whopping 25 fouls compared to Minnesota's 23 total fouls.
“Terrible,” said Morant, who had four fouls. “I don't even foul like that.”
Desmond Bane, who hit his eighth 3-pointer at the buzzer to finish with 34 points, kept the Grizzlies going early. Brooks, with 24 points, helped keep them in it late. It was another quiet night for Morant, the star point guard who had 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting with 15 assists and eight rebounds.
“I'm not Ja right now,” said Morant, who indicated he's not at full strength. “I'm not playing above the rim.”
The series shifts back to Memphis for Game 5 on Tuesday night.
“Even after everything, you still only win the game by one. It just shows you the margin of error in this game and then the playoffs, especially when you’re playing a team like this,” said Towns, who took four shots and had just eight points in Game 3.
Patrick Beverley missed two free throws with 43 seconds left. With the Wolves leading 115-110, Morant answered with a layup and Edwards missed a pull-up 3. But Tyus Jones had his 3-pointer fall short with 10.5 seconds to go, and Edwards grabbed the rebound. He sank both free throws as the crowd chanted, “Wolves in six! Wolves in six!”
McLaughlin's first 3 put Minnesota in front in the second quarter to start a 17-1 run that maxed out with a 50-35 lead — the largest of the night that quickly got whittled by the Grizzles back down to single digits.
Game 3 was an anomaly, considering the Timberwolves were just the ninth NBA team in 389 situations over the past 25 postseasons to lead by 25-plus points and lose the game, according to ESPN.
And while it fits right into the Minnesota sports scene that has been filled for decades with such disappointment, the crowd didn’t quit trying to create a raucous advantage Saturday.
Troy Hudson and Wally Szczerbiak, standouts on the last Timberwolves team that captivated the town in 2004, were courtside with an endless supply of high-fives for fans seated nearby.
When Towns swished a 3 from the top of the key on the first possession, a jet-like roar followed.
Towns knew how critical the game was and came out with a ferocity suggesting he knew precisely how much criticism he'd been dealt for his Game 3 dud. When he hit his opening 3, he looked down at his hands and yelled to no one in particular about the importance of passing him the ball.
“Exactly what we needed from him,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Just aggressive, putting the pressure on them, forcing them to blow the whistle.”
BUMPS AND BRUISES
Bodies crashed to the floor on almost every possession in what was perhaps the most physical game of the series to date. Morant, who has been playing through nagging leg injuries, took several hard landings after layup attempts.
Grizzlies backup Ziaire Williams sustained an eye injury in the second quarter, when Morant drew a flagrant foul on D’Angelo Russell as he drove to the hoop and caught a hand to the face.
Edwards left for a bit in the first quarter with an injury to his right knee unrelated to any contact, but after having trouble walking to the locker room for further examination he returned less than 3 minutes later without any trouble.
“Everybody playing through something, you know?” Edwards said.
Two more animal rights protesters attempted to interrupt the game in the third quarter. One woman leaped over the courtside seats of Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and his wife, Becky, before being tackled by security and carried away. Her companion remained behind the Taylors and next to the second row of Timberwolves assistant coaches, who helped security wrestle her out.
The group has been protesting the way a chicken farm part of Taylor's enterprises has allegedly handled an avian flu outbreak. The highly contagious virus has killed roughly 28 million poultry.
Grizzlies: Xavier Tillman started at center, the fourth Grizzlies player in the series in an opening-half lineup to join Jaren Jackson Jr. in the frontcourt. Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson and Steven Adams have all taken turns. ... Jackson fouled out with seven points. “Jaren knows the player he is. We know the player he is," Clarke said. “He'll be just fine.”
Timberwolves: Beverley had 17 points. ... Jarred Vanderbilt had 12 points and eight rebounds.
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