NEW YORK – Madison Square Garden holds a place in the hearts of many NBA players, but for New Jersey native Karl-Anthony Towns, it holds a special place because it was his late mom Jacqueline's "favorite game" to attend.
"I told my dad, everyone's going to get a chance to have their Madison Square Garden moment," Towns said. "That was the biggest moment I've had at MSG. Great crowd, great atmosphere, great energy and I got to silence everybody so that made it even better."
Towns earned that moment with the winning bucket in the Wolves' 112-110 victory Tuesday night over the Tom Thibodeau-led Knicks. With the Wolves trailing 109-108 and 29 seconds remaining, Towns drove to his left on fellow Kentucky alum Julius Randle, got the layup to fall and a foul to go with it for a three-point play that gave the Wolves their second consecutive win in a physical game that included 55 fouls and 71 free throws.
As frustrating as all those whistles might have been, they ended up benefiting the Wolves in that moment with Towns, who finished with 20 points (11 in the first quarter). The two players who guarded him most of the night, Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson, had fouled out, leaving the 6-8 Randle to contend with the 6-11 Towns in the most important moment. Towns said the play call was "34," which set him up with the ball near the high post.
"When we got in the huddle and [Wolves coach Chris Finch] called '34,' I felt pretty good about us winning," Towns said. "I was smiling at everyone because I felt pretty good that I was going to make the shot."
He said Randle played good defense, he just played better offense.
"That was Kentucky on Kentucky crime right there," Towns said.
After Towns' three-point play, the Wolves survived two attempts from the Knicks to tie or win in the final seconds. Evan Fournier, who had 27 points, came up short on a two-point jumper and Alec Burks missed an open look at a three. No matter that Burks had a clean look for the win, the Wolves felt like they deserved this one.
"We used to find ways to lose these types of games, and we used to give excuses for why we would lose these types of games," guard Jaylen Nowell said.
Nowell was also a big reason they didn't. The Wolves relinquished a 10-point halftime lead in the third but clawed back in the fourth and answered three triples from Kemba Walker (19 points) with 11 fourth-quarter points from Nowell, who finished with 14. At a time when not a lot was going right for the Wolves, the surging Nowell came up with key buckets in a physical game to keep the Wolves within striking distance.
"I played a lot of pickup when I was younger. It was call your own fouls. I was one of those guys that never called fouls," Nowell said. "I understood that the type of scorer I wanted to become, the way that guys were going to have to stop me was to foul. I'm not looking for that foul. I'm really looking to finish every single time."
Anthony Edwards, who had 21, said he spoke to Nowell, who was struggling most of the night.
"He was like, 'Bruh, I can't hit nothing.' I said, 'Bruh, we need you. They trapping me on the ball screen. We need you,'" Edwards said.
He told Nowell he'd then run off 10 consecutive points. Nowell got nine. Towns had only five in the fourth, but his final three came when the Wolves needed them most.
"It's always special to come here," Towns said. "It's a special moment."