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Hawks can’t stop the KAT from purring in loss to Wolves

And there sure was a lot of purring to be had as Towns scores franchise-best 56 points.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their fourth consecutive game as they fell short in Minneapolis to the Timberwolves, 126-114 at Target Center on Wednesday night.

Mike Muscala poured in a career-high 24 points while Taurean Prince added 21 points and seven assists (though did commit seven turnovers).

For the Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns scored a season, career and franchise-best 56 points while also collecting 15 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins also added 17 points (but no one cares, really. Sorry Andrew!).


Well, what do you say here? What a game from Karl-Anthony Towns — 56 points on 19-of-32 shooting, 6-of-8 from three, 12-of-15 from the line and 15 rebounds, despite staying up late to play PUBG the night before...

I don’t normally post opponent highlights but this calls for an exception:

How the game itself went doesn’t really matter (again, if you want to know how the game itself unfolded, the recap is a great place to start) — it’s all about KAT and how his performance lifted the Wolves to this victory. So let’s talk about it, and how the Hawks struggled to contain the grown man they call KAT.

It’s worth pointing out that the Wolves were coming off of one of their worst losses of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies, an embarrassing loss that they didn’t need, already struggling for seeding in the Western Conference. But they were ready to go last night, as was Towns, who scored 10 points in the first quarter and 26 in the first half.

John Collins had a tough time against Towns, it has to be said, and Towns worked him on a number of occasions.

Firstly, Towns backs down Collins in the post, turns and hits the turnaround hook:

Again, in the post, Towns backs down Collins, spins to his right and hits the jump-hook:

Coming off of a pick-and-roll with Jeff Teague, Towns receives the ball from Teague and is able to get around Collins for the score:

It’s just a very tough matchup for Collins: Towns just has that extra experience, the physical edge and talent edge over Collins, as he does over most players in the league — that’s why Towns is an All-Star. He’s really, really flipping good.

Of course, it wasn’t just Collins that Towns gave the runaround to — Mike Muscala struggled at times too.

On this possession, Towns establishes great position on Muscala and it results in a basket:

Decent defense from Muscala, actually — when Towns looks to back down Muscala, he stands his ground but Towns still makes the shot.

Muscala fronts Towns on this possession but Towns is able spring away from Muscala and dunks it home after the entry pass:

And, for good measure, Towns also had success when guarded by Dewayne Dedmon, drawing free throws on this possession in the post:

The Hawks, as you can see, tried to throw different guys on Towns but none of them had any luck in slowing him down.

Towns himself was just unstoppable at times: when he gets a head of steam — or even a partial head of steam — there’s not a whole lot you can do:

Towns’ combination of size, athleticism, speed and strength are just too much for the Hawks to deal with:

And sometimes there really is just nothing you can do, once Towns got going on this play, nothing was stopping him:

That said, there were plenty of instances where the Hawks could’ve done a lot better when it came to defending Towns — more so from three-point land where Towns shot 6-of-8.

The Hawks, on a number of occasions, either strayed a little too far from Towns — a 44% three-point shooter — behind the three-point line or just lost him entirely.

On this possession, Collins strays just a little too far away from Towns, who makes sure to punish Collins for that lapse:

Sadly, it wasn’t the only time Collins lost track of Towns for a three:

Dewayne Dedmon struggled too, losing Towns initially before getting caught up on the Jeff Teague screen, barrelling Teague over in what would be a four-point play with the foul coming on Dedmon sending Teague to the line for an additional free throw:

This next one is more unfortunate than it was a mistake, but Mike Muscala slips as he tries to chase Towns, leaving Towns with an open three, despite the efforts of Tyler Cavanaugh (who definitely had his best game in a while) to close out:

Towns also caused the Hawks havoc on the glass, this rebound typifying his night — a Wolf among Hawks, as four Hawks are unable to claim this rebound from Towns, who draws the shooting foul:

Just an absolutely dominant display from Towns: in the paint, from behind the arc and on the boards. The end result of this game was the third-highest scoring output against the Hawks in their franchise history: only Michael Jordan and Larry Bird have scored more points in a game against the Hawks, per 92.9 The Game’s Mike Conti:

Maybe it was the extra PUBG sesh that helped Towns the night before, or the desperation and need of a win after the Memphis loss to stay on the playoff track in the absence of Jimmy Butler...

Postgame, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer tipped his hat to Towns but was fairly happy with how his team defended both Towns and the fight of his team.

“Obviously Karl-Anthony Towns had an individual performance that was pretty special,” said Budenholzer in his opening statement. “But I think our guys made him work for a lot, even (for him) to get 54 or 56 I thought our activity and our aggressiveness... Maybe as coaching staff, (we) should adjust and do something different but I’m proud of the way our guys competed, cut it to six with four or five minutes to go. We just kept battling... We’re ready to go home.”

Towns’ ability to shoot the three-pointer was something that really stood out to Budenholzer, especially at this size.

“I think the biggest thing that stands out is the way he shot the three-ball,” said Budenholzer of Towns. “To go 6-for-8 at this size is just impressive. Then he gets fouled on a three-point shot, that’s 21 points right there... Around the basket he was good too, on the offensive boards — he scored in a lot of different ways. Impressive game for him, no doubt.”

For Towns himself (who has been under the weather and was so in last night’s game), it took until after the game to realise what had actually just occurred, with the help of his teammates.

From Jerry Zgoda and The Star Tribune:

Under the weather but not quite over the moon, Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns claimed he didn’t know just what he had done in Wednesday night’s 126-114 victory over Atlanta until coach Tom Thibodeau had delivered his postgame comments to players and locker-room attendants began collecting sweaty jerseys for laundering.

That’s when teammate Jamal Crawford suggested Towns keep his.

“It hit me that I actually did what I did,” Towns said (from that same Star Tribune piece). “It was a real cool moment. Next thing you know, I was asking for the ball. I was asking for everything. It’s great when you have teammates who help you realize not only the little things, but the big things in life and how valuable and special they truly are. I’d lie to you: I would have probably just left here like it was a regular day.”

Per that same Star Tribune piece, Towns had no idea he was approaching the franchise-record.

“Everyone was telling me I needed eight more, eight more for 50,” said Towns. “I wasn’t really thinking about that. We gave up so many points, I was just trying to find a way to win.”

Towns makes a good point — and coach Budneholzer alluded to it too when he spoke about the Hawks being close near the end of the game...

It took 56 points from Towns in 41 minutes to put away the (at the time) 21-53 Hawks, the Wolves only won by 12 points and conceded 114 points. The Hawks had even cut a 16-point fourth quarter lead to just six points with 4:31 remaining.

This was by no means a blowout or a comfortable win for the Wolves, so a lot of credit has to go to the Hawks for hanging around and scrapping as they usually do but especially on the last game of a six game road-trip — to shoot over 53% from the field, make 13 threes, shoot 48% on those threes and as shorthanded as they have been throughout this trip (without Dennis Schröder again last night, Kent Bazemore, Malcolm Delaney and DeAndre’ Bembry)... They deserve a ton of credit.

And congratulations to Karl-Anthony Towns...just incredible. You have to tip your hat in this case, top class.

Mike Muscala’s career-high

Karl-Anthony Towns wasn’t the only player to enjoy a career-night.

Though it wasn’t nearly on the scale of Towns’ career-high, Mike Muscala — for the second time this season — posted a new career-high with 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 4-of-6 from three and 4-of-4 from the line in his annual visit to his native Minneapolis.

Muscala had the three-pointer going for him in this game, making four of them, three of which came from the right corner. Here was one of them:

Muscala’s three-point success opened up other opportunities for him. Towns tries to closeout Muscala, who ball-fakes, steps inside and hits the mid-range J:

The game just comes naturally to Muscala, he’s never one to force a shot that isn’t there — just comes in the flow of the game.

Off of a Wolves miss, Muscala runs the floor and he is rewarded for doing so, and squeezes the ball onto the glass before Towns can block it, resulting in a goaltend:

The Hawks only snatched four offensive rebounds, here was one of them, as Muscala fends off Towns to not only grab the offensive rebound but stick it back into the net:

And, finally, Muscala catches Towns napping, makes a cut to the rim and is found by Josh Magette for the layup:

As you can see, Muscala’s 24 points came in a variety of ways and all in the flow of the game.

“...Muscala had a great game shooting the ball...”, commented coach Budenholzer postgame.

“He was awesome,” said Josh Magette of Muscala. “I was really happy for him to be able to make some shots. He had the tough task of guarding Towns all night. For him to come out here and make shots like he did was pretty special.”

The end of a six game road trip

As alluded to, this was the last game of what has been a pretty brutal six game road-trip. The Hawks went 1-5, suffering losses against the Bucks, Kings, Warriors, Rockets and Wolves, with the unlikely win — considering how they were rolling — coming against the Utah Jazz.

The Hawks will, no doubt, be relieved to get home as their last major road-trip of the season is over and done with, as their season hits the final stretch with just seven games remaining.

It was a successful road trip for Taurean Prince, who averaged just under 21 points per game on 43% shooting from the field and 35% from three. Isaiah Taylor also enjoyed a strong road-trip, posting two career-highs (first in Sacramento with 18, then in Houston with 26) and averaged 13 points on 49% shooting from the field.

In fact, quite a number of Hawks enjoyed solid road-trips. You can view the stats for everyone on the trip here.

With this six game road-trip now completed, the Hawks have just three road games remaining in the season.

‘We’re not going back to L.A. We’re not going back to L.A.’

Last night not only marked the end of the Hawks’ six game road-trip but also their final game against a Western Conference opponent this season.

The Hawks finish 12-18 against the Western Conference, and you’d be surprised how well that actually ranks amongst the Eastern Conference. It easily surpasses the single digit number of victories against the West that the Orlando Magic (9 wins), Brooklyn Nets (9 wins) and Chicago Bulls (6 wins, yikes) boast, but also comes very close to some playoff teams.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have all won 13 games against the Western Conference, just one more than the Hawks (though, those three teams still have games remaining against the West).

And there were some memorable wins for the Hawks against the Western Conference this season: two victories against the Utah Jazz, a victory against these Timberwolves at Philips Arena, against the sure to be home-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and an awesome win against the New Orleans Pelicans (thanks to a game-winner by Kent Bazemore).

Though the Hawks are done with the Western Conference in terms of games on the court, there’s still a fierce battle between the Hawks and two Western Conference teams when it comes to ping-pong balls... More on that with today’s instalment of the Ping-Pong Chronicles here at Peachtree Hoops...

Until next season/the draft lottery, Western Conference... Until next time...

The Hawks (21-54) now head home but face a streaking Philadelphia 76ers side on Friday, who have won eight game in a row, though, the status of Joel Embiid (who took a blow to the head) is unknown...

Stay tuned.