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Towns and Timberwolves Tip Clippers, 104-101

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Karl-Anthony Towns showed the Clippers that the hype is real.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin sidelined with injuries, 21-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns stepped into the game’s starring role. The 2015 first-overall draft pick exploded for 15 in the fourth quarter to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 104-101 comeback win.

DeAndre Jordan, who was pretty stellar himself, scoring a career-high 29 points and falling just one point shy of becoming the Clippers’ first 30-point scorer this season (hat tip to Justin Russo), was powerless to stop Towns’ silky jumpers. Minnesota’s young star rained fire from all over the floor. Towns has his defensive shortcomings, but his offensive game looks fully formed. He finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists on 17-for-24 shooting.

Towns’ unstoppable shot creation paired with fellow former first overall pick Andrew Wiggins’ 27 points to stave off the third quarter collapse we were waiting for. The Wolves entered the night with an average net rating worse than -10 in the 12 minutes following halftime, but bested the Clippers 33-28 in tonight’s third frame.

Minnesota’s formula flip closed a game the Clippers probably expected to run away with. After a close first quarter, the Clippers tightened their defensive execution to harry the Wolves into five second-quarter turnovers. DeAndre found quick chemistry with starting point guard Ray Felton and took advantage of the Wolves’ defensive inattentiveness to lead the Clippers to a seven-point halftime lead. Brandon Bass added 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting, but he wouldn’t score again.

And it was there that the baby Wolves took off when they usually fall flat. And babies they were. Veteran Ricky Rubio left the game with an injured hip, leaving point guard duties to 2016 first-rounder Kris Dunn. In fact, Tom Thibodeau totally entrusted the final minutes of this game to his youngsters. Inserting sophomore guard Tyus Jones for Gorgui Dieng, Thibodeau constructed a lineup where the 22-year-old Dunn was the elder statesman.

Towns’ steady flow of jumpers brought the Wolves back, slowly and inexorably. Minnesota trailed from 35-35 in the second quarter, and wouldn’t retake the lead until Towns coolly and coldly knocked down a jumper with 44.9 seconds remaining. Andrew Wiggins lassoed an offensive rebound with 5.5 seconds left that lead to free throws and a three-point lead that wouldn’t fall when JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford both missed three-pointers.

Austin Rivers, who overcame a cold start to tally 20 points, struggled with fouls and eventually found his way out with a sixth. Ray Felton played admirably in Chris Paul’s absence, scoring 10 and dishing eight assists without a turnover. Brandon Bass, who helped key the Clippers’ second-quarter run, wouldn’t score in the second half but finished with 10 points and made all five of his field goal attempts. Jamal Crawford shook off another poor shooting performance to knock down a big jumper with 1:28 left, but clanked his way to seven points on 3-for-14 shooting. He did add eight rebounds.

Zach LaVine, who came into the game as one of three Minnesota 20-point scorers, failed to reach double-digits, converting just three of 13 shots.

The Clippers fell to 7-1 in 2017.