When Karl-Anthony Towns was out for two games this week, the Timberwolves got blown out of Target Center.
When Towns returned to the lineup Friday, the Timberwolves beat Miami and Towns foil Jimmy Butler 119-111.
If ever a series of games showed the impact Towns' presence can have on the Wolves' fortunes it came this week, as he returned from a two-game absence to be with his family as they commemorated the one-year anniversary of his mother Jacqueline's death from COVID-19.
Towns had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists as he led a fourth-quarter charge that put the Wolves up 10 against a tough Miami team, and the Wolves held on for the win after Towns fouled out with 1 minute, 51 seconds remaining.
Following the game, Towns appeared for his video interviews wearing two necklaces, a heart and one that said "Jackie."
"This win meant a lot to me," Towns said. "... I made a text message before I went on my absence, I told them how important they are to me and my life, especially at this stage in my life. I feel like in a lot of ways … they kind of saved my life the way my mind was working and still works.
"But every single day they just bring such comfort to me and it makes the game fun."
It might have been extra sweet for Towns to get his first win over Butler, who criticized Towns' work ethic on his way out of town. Butler had 30 points, but Towns got a big boost from the bench.
Naz Reid had 16 points and seven rebounds, including a key put-back after Towns fouled out to put the Wolves up 115-109 with 1:32 remaining.
Jarred Vanderbilt, who had fallen out of the rotation of late, brought a much needed lift on the boards after Jaden McDaniels got in early foul trouble. Vanderbilt finished with nine points and 14 rebounds, five offensive. That helped the Wolves get 23 second-chance points to Miami's five.
"My mind-set going into the game was to bring some energy to the team and just up our level of physicality," Vanderbilt said. "I felt like our level of competitiveness wasn't there to begin the game."
The Wolves trailed by 11 after the first quarter, but Vanderbilt and Reid helped the Wolves score 13 of the first 15 points in the second. From there, the Wolves matched Miami's physicality as Towns confronted Bam Adebayo in the post. But Towns was able to get his, especially in the fourth.
After Butler, who the few thousand in attendance booed pregame, missed a layup with under 20 seconds to play, he didn't try to foul Ricky Rubio (17 points), after Rubio grabbed the rebound. He put his hands on his knees, relinquishing defeat.
It was a win important to Towns, but not just for beating Butler, if that even mattered at all.
"He's playing great through a lot of adversity tonight and he was frustrated," Finch said of the physicality in Friday's game. "I know the game meant a lot to him. He was able to make big shots and big plays at the right time for us."
It was also a tough week for Towns seeing the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center less than a year after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Towns has called Minnesota home longer than any of his teammates except Rubio, and this last year has been hard for him to see such tragedy happen in his community.
"It's embarrassing," Towns said. "You see the beauty this place has, the community has, the people have, and then to have something like this put just a big stain on your words and your experiences here. ... But I'm going to keep stressing the importance of how great this community is and keep telling people, with these guys, make sure they understand that they've got to keep themselves safe."
They mean too much to Towns.