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With 3.6 seconds remaining, Karl-Anthony Towns stepped to the free-throw line, and the 17,136 people at Target Center became quiet with the Wolves trailing by a point.

There was tension and nervousness in that silence as Towns got the ball with a stoic look on his face.

But he insisted he wasn't feeling that way on the inside. There was a smile beneath that intensity, as if the outcome of those two free throws were predetermined, a storybook return that he could win a game after sitting out the previous 52 of them.

He took two dribbles, a small breath. Back iron and in. Tie game. One more to go.

Two dribbles, a breath. Swish and a fist pump to let out all that pent-up emotion. On those free throws, the Wolves led, and they would go on to win 125-124 after De'Andre Hunter and Saddiq Bey missed Atlanta's last shots in Towns' triumphant from a right calf injury.

"This is what movies are made of," Towns said. "You come back … sellout crowd, Target Center and you get the ball with seven seconds left. You've got to make it. I mean, it doesn't get better than that."

Towns looked little worse for the emotional and physical wear of nearly four months of being out as he scored 22 points, with those last two being the most important of the night.

"I was expecting him to play a little worse," guard Mike Conley joked afterward.

Towns played 26 minutes, about eight or nine below his usual dosage, and was 8-for-18 from the field. Coach Chris Finch said he never had any doubt Towns would be getting the ball when the Wolves inbounded with 7.2 seconds remaining, especially with Anthony Edwards still out because of a sprained right ankle. Towns never had any doubt the Wolves would win. He drew the foul on John Collins with a drive to the right, right as the Atlanta bench told Collins to watch the drive to that side.

"I was smiling a lot. Just in my mind. I know on the court, it probably didn't show it," Towns said. "But even before I got the ball with seven seconds left, I was smiling. Just had a good feeling the game was going to go the way I wanted it to."

It didn't look like it would for a while in the fourth quarter when Atlanta led by 11. But Finch went with an unorthodox lineup of Naz Reid, Rudy Gobert, Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson and Taurean Prince that got the Wolves back the lead with a 16-2 run. The Wolves wouldn't have won without the production of Reid, who had 26 points, including 13 in the fourth, or McDaniels, who had another strong offensive game with 25.

The Wolves also wouldn't have won without officials messing up a late call, as referee Ben Taylor told a pool reporter the officials missed a foul on Prince during Bey's last-second putback attempt.

Maybe the officials didn't want to put a damper on Towns' big night. After the game, Edwards was escorting Towns down the back hallway, jubilantly saying he didn't have to take all the late-game shots anymore.

"It's obviously one of the beauties of KAT," Finch said. "You can give him the ball in a lot of places on the floor in high-leverage situations. He's going to get a clean look, put a lot of pressure to get the foul."

That allowed the Wolves getting a much-needed-win in a tight playoff race. Towns joked that he read his script from the NBA on Wednesday morning and saw what the league wanted to happen. But even if someone had written it, he or she may have thought the way it ended was too on the nose.

"The whole day I was just feeling so blessed to be able to know that I was going to put this jersey on and I was going to contribute to my team," Towns said. "... Like I said, it's what movies is made of, it's what dreams is made of. I'm glad my movie had a good ending."