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Jazz 112, Wolves 103: Emotionally Drained

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As Towns looks in the mirror, he needs to see a few different things.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Sitting hunched over in his locker stall with his head down in front of reporters, Karl-Anthony Towns looked emotionally drained after the Wolves loss to Utah on Monday night.

“The more losses we keep accumulating, the more it feels like it’s my fault,” Towns said quietly. “I got to look at myself in the mirror. I got to play better. I got to play at a level where we can’t lose and just help my teammates out the best I can. I didn’t do that tonight. I haven’t done it recently.”

It was the second time this season Towns has taken all of the blame for the loss, and losses in general. “All these losses fall on my shoulders,” Towns said when asked if there were specific areas where he didn’t feel like himself right now.

You might remember my recap of the Wolves win over the Sixers from 11 days ago in which I compared Towns’ play this season to a scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Towns tried to do less tonight, and he ended up doing more,” I wrote.

I thought about the same point during his interview after the game. He tried to do too much on the interior against a supremely talent rim protector in Rudy Gobert. One of the league’s finest, in fact. There were a few easy bunnies he missed while trying to rush the shot so Gobert couldn’t block him, but the point is he tried to go at Gobert and put the team on his back when the matchup should have forced him out onto the perimeter where he could have played within the flow of the offense and use his excellent jumper to harm the Jazz, while pulling Gobert out of the paint so Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine could attack the rim more freely without the threat of getting their attempts swatted into the fifth row.

Plenty of people have wanted Towns to post-up more this season, no doubt, but tonight was a matchup that called for him to play outside a lot more than he did. Instead, Towns often went inside, and he looked like he was trying to save the Wolves all through the night, especially in crunch time. Then he took all the blame for the loss afterward. Again, all I could think about was how KAT is trying to do too much offensively when he should do less and focus way more of his energy on being the elite defensive big this team desperately needs him to be.

“This is no one else’s fault,” Towns continued, clearly down in the dumps about another loss. “None of the coaching staff. None my teammates. This is my fault. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault but myself. It’s something I got to fix. It’s something that so far in the season has been me. I got to change for the better for us. I guess it’s back to the drawing board tomorrow.”

Jon Krawczynski shrewdly asked Towns if it was dangerous to put all the responsibility on his shoulders.

“No. I mean, it’s something I know I can carry,” Towns, who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, responded.

“I never said it was going to be easy but it’s something I know I can deal with. Does it make sleeping hard at night? Yeah, but I show up the same time every day at practice, always the first one in, try to be the last one out. I put the work in, I trust what I do. I work tremendously hard on my craft. I take my game very serious. I take this craft very seriously. I treat it with the utmost respect, but I got to do more. I just got to do more. I got to play at a level where we just can’t lose.”

But as Towns took all of the blame again, part of the Wolves problem further revealed itself. As he tries to save the franchise from the lottery depths they have grown accustomed to drowning in, he’s made it more difficult on himself and his teammates to accomplish the playoff goals they outlined before the season. A team loses as one, and they must play as one during critical moments.

Towns might want to shelter his squad from criticism by taking all the blame and putting the struggles on himself, but as he looks in the mirror he must see that he needs to do less offensively and far more defensively. His team needs him to be a star and true force on the defensive end more than ever. They need the opposition to fear him like teams fear Gobert.

“I’m a very emotional player,” Towns continued.

“I play with a lot of passion and I just came in this locker room after the game and I’m just emotionally drained. I give everything I got and I just want to see us win. I want to see my teammates happy. I want to see our wins more than our losses. You look at yourself first.

Like I said, I got to play better. These losses fall on me, no one else. I got to improve myself so I can be a better player for this team. It’s hard, you know, it’s hard. It’s not even for personal reasons or anything, it’s just so I could see my brothers smile and take care of them—make sure day in and day out they leave as a winner. Right now I’m not doing that, so I need to do better.”

As I walked back to my car thinking about Towns’ words, trying to figure out what’s holding this Wolves team back at seemingly every stop, I listened to a song from the amazing American jazz trumpeter, Chet Baker. Since Utah was in Minneapolis, it only felt fitting.

The track is called Almost Blue and it’s actually an Elvis Costello song. Baker, however, recorded it live in Tokyo in June of 1987 (according to my sources). I’m not sure exactly why but I find the track to be comforting as the losing mounts up. I’ve covered many losses in my three years here at Canis Hoopus.

NOTES

  • Zach LaVine scored 28 points on 9-17 shooting, adding season-highs in both assists (8) and rebounds (8). It was his first career 3x8 (8+ points, 8+ rebounds, 8+ assists) game (per Twolves PR). 20 of his 28 points came in the second half, his third game this season with 20+ points in a half.
  • Shabazz Muhammad finally showed some life. He finished with 10 points off the bench and provided a brief offensive spark that’s been missing this season.
  • George Hill scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds. The Jazz are now 7-3 when he plays. It’s a head-scratcher that Larry Bird and company over in Indiana believed it was a wise move to trade Hill for Jeff Teague straight up this summer. Hill is an excellent point guard and takes the Jazz to another level.
  • Gordon Hayward finished with 24 points, his fourth straight 20+ point game and ninth of the season. Hayward attempted a season-high 15 free throws tonight, finishing 12-15 at the line.
  • Thibodeau during his short presser: “It’s very concerning from the standpoint of you want to be making progress, that’s the important thing. Every day make progress. We didn’t make progress today and that’s something that has to be corrected. It’s one thing if you do things correctly and lose on a tough shot or someone makes a great play—that can happen to you. But when you’re outrebounded, you’re fouling recklessly, you’re not protecting the basket, your weak side has no awareness. It’s not acceptable.”
  • Thibs started the fourth quarter with Tyus Jones at point guard again over Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn. Jones has now played the entire fourth quarter in three straight games. While Jones has been a pleasant surprise for the Wolves, and arguably the most consistent point guard in Thibs’ system this season (small sample size alert), I thought Thibs should've gone back to Rubio when he called a timeout down 86-83. Tyus did his job off the bench and they needed Rubio’s defense down the stretch more than anything.