SAN ANTONIO — Karl-Anthony Towns delivered one of the most prolific performances by an NBA center in more than two decades.
And he also finished with a nice round number.
Towns had a team-high 60 points — the most in the NBA this season — as the Minnesota Timberwolves outlasted the San Antonio Spurs 149-139 on Monday night.
“I told the coach [Chris Finch] before the game, ‘Hey listen, we need this win. I’ll do whatever it takes,” Towns said. “If I need to play 44, 48 minutes, I’ll do it.” That was kind of the mindset I arrived in [with]. I had to dominate. I had to do my best.”
He certainly was.
Towns shot 19 for 31 overall, grabbed 17 rebounds and finished 7 for 11 of 3 in surpassing his career-high 56 points against the Atlanta Hawks on March 28, 2018 — which had been the franchise mark. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Hawks guard Trae Young have already shared league honors this season with 56 points.
The 7-foot Minnesota All-Star capped his dazzling outburst by draining a 3-pointer with 1:39 remaining, shortly after making one of two free throws to reach 57 points.
Towns is the first player in NBA history to hit the benchmarks of 60 points, 15 rebounds and 60% 3-point shooting in a game.
He became the first center in the NBA with a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal had 61 for the Lakers on March 6, 2000 – O’Neal’s birthday. Overall, Towns is the fifth center with a 60-point game, joining O’Neal, David Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.
Towns also became the first No. 1 overall pick to score 60 points since James’ only career 60-point performance in 2014.
“The whole team was happy,” said Timberwolves point guard D’Angelo Russell, who had 19 points. “Everyone was disinterested about it. I think that was more what I enjoyed. The performance was amazing, but everyone wanted to see it too.”
Minnesota is 1½ games behind the Denver Nuggets for sixth place in the Western Conference playoff pursuit.
San Antonio has lost two straight since Gregg Popovich won his 1,336th career win to become the winningest coach in NBA history. Spurs have lost seven of nine in total.
Keldon Johnson had 34 points for San Antonio. Dejounte Murray added 30 points and 12 assists, and Lonnie Walker IV had 22.
The teams combined for 148 points in the first half, shooting 58 of 100 while playing at a blistering pace. San Antonio opened the game 4-5 on 3-pointers and Minnesota shot 75% from the field in the first seven minutes.
Towns had 14 points and five rebounds while playing the entire first quarter against Jakob Poeltl and Zach Collins.
“Karl was fantastic,” Popovich said. “He drove it, he shot it – he always plays strong. He’s a hell of a player. It’s not like it’s a surprise, but tonight he was special.”
Towns had 32 points in the third quarter, the fourth most in a single quarter in the last 25 seasons.
“They were selling to protect the rim with everything we were trying to do,” Finch said. “He had the match-up, and they didn’t have an answer for him. We really needed it, and he stepped up.”
The game got choppy in the third, as Minnesota guard Patrick Beverley got tangled up with Murray and Collins on separate possessions. The skirmishes fueled a 16-7 run for Wolves that gave them a 112-99 lead with 2:30 to go in the quarter.
Towns collected 56 points in the first three periods. He sat with 6:34 remaining shortly after committing his fourth and fifth fouls in 45 seconds, but returned to the floor with three minutes remaining to set his career high.
Towns said he asked Finch what he wanted to do and the coach told him to “go get 60”.
“So I just went out there, tried to be really aggressive,” Towns said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.