Towns put up another enormous stat line, scoring 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter as the Minnesota Timberwolves kept rolling against another heavyweight opponent. But he said he played second fiddle on this night.
Rubio scored 22 points and broke his own franchise record with 19 assists, and the Timberwolves beat the Washington Wizards 119-104 on Monday night.
“He almost single-handedly won us this game tonight,” Towns said of his point guard. “So, we just picked up with any pieces he could give us.”
Nemanja Bjelica added 16 points and 10 boards off the bench for the Timberwolves, who entered the game 3 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Minnesota shot 52 percent and Rubio topped 20 points in back-to-back games for the second time in his six-year career.
John Wall scored 27 points for the Wizards, who fell 2 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Bradley Beal added 20 points, but Washington lost for the first time in six games. They finished a tough, five-game road trip at 4-1.
“We were ready to go 5-0. No excuses,” Wall said. “We just didn’t come out and play great defensively.”
Rubio has been playing the best basketball of his life over the last two months, and it has culminated with a brilliant week against some of the best point guards in the league. He outplayed Chris Paul and Stephen Curry in home victories over the Clippers and Warriors last week, then put up 22 points and eight assists in a loss at Milwaukee on Saturday.
But he’s never been better than in the first quarter against Wall and the Wizards. Threading bounce passes through windows that weren’t even open, Rubio doled out 10 assists in the first quarter. Bjelica was a primary beneficiary, catching a 40-foot outlet pass for a layup and a bounce pass that squeezed between two defenders and onto his fingertips for a layup that put the Wolves up 35-14.
“Some nights you see things a little different and it gets easier,” Rubio said. “Tonight in the first quarter I really saw different things out there. I was trying to set the tempo from the beginning and being aggressive.”
The Wizards were undaunted, having come back from a 21-point deficit in the first half to beat Portland on Saturday night.
Wall got off to a slow start shooting, but he attacked the rim relentlessly to help Washington climb back into the game. Wall made 14 of 19 free throws, Beal converted a four-point play and Wall’s two freebies made it 102-97 with 4:21 to play.
But Towns hit a 3 and two free throws, and the Wizards couldn’t find the energy to finish another furious comeback in their fifth game in seven nights.
“I don’t make excuses, but I’m not going to sit here and act like we’re not tired,” Beal said. “It is what it is. We take this loss like a man and we move on from it.”
Wizards: Wall was chosen Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging 29.8 points and 11.3 assists. … Bojan Bogdanovic had 12 points but made just 1 of 6 3s off the bench.
Timberwolves: Towns was named Western Conference player of the week after averaging 29.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in three games last week. … Rubio’s 10 assists in the first quarter tied Paul’s third quarter against New Orleans on Dec. 10 for most in a quarter this season.
Both Towns and coach Tom Thibodeau picked up technical fouls for arguing with the officials about contact against the big man in the paint. And afterward, an exasperated Thibodeau said he can’t figure out what he has to do to get more calls for Towns.
“I’m asking the officials. I’m asking the league,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a lot of contact there. He’s got to keep going, I guess.”