SAN ANTONIO — Karl-Anthony Towns delivered one of the most prolific performances by an NBA center in more than two decades.
And he finished with a nice round number, too.
Towns had a team-record 60 points — the most scored in the NBA this season — as the Minnesota Timberwolves outlasted the San Antonio Spurs 149-139 on Monday night.
“I told 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 get it done.’ That was kind of the mindset I came in [with]. I had to dominate. I had to be my best.”
He certainly was.
Towns shot 19-for-31 overall, grabbed 17 rebounds and finished 7-for-11 on 3s in surpassing his previous career best of 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 previously shared league-high honors this season with 56 points.
Minnesota’s 7-foot 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 reach the benchmarks of 60 points, 15 rebounds and 60% 3-point shooting in a game.
He became the first NBA center 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 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. “Everybody was being selfless about it. I think that was more of what I appreciated. The performance was amazing, but everybody wanted to see it, too.”
Minnesota is 1½ games behind the Denver Nuggets for sixth place in the Western Conference playoff chase.
San Antonio has lost two straight since Gregg Popovich earned his 1,336th career victory to become the winningest coach in NBA history. The Spurs have dropped seven of nine overall.
Keldon Johnson had 34 points for San Antonio. Dejounte Murray added 30 points and 12 assists, and Lonnie Walker IV scored 22.
The teams combined for 148 points in the first half, shooting 58-of-100 while playing at a frenzied pace. San Antonio opened the game 4-for-5 on 3-pointers, and Minnesota shot 75% from the field during 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 hard. He’s a hell of a player. It’s not like it was a surprise, but tonight he was special.”
Towns had 32 points in the third quarter, the fourth-most in a single quarter over the past 25 seasons.
“They were selling out to protect the rim with everything else we were trying to do,” Finch said. “He had the matchup, and they didn’t have an answer for him. We definitely needed it, and he stepped up.”
The game got chippy 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 the Wolves that gave them a 112-99 lead with 2:30 remaining in the quarter.
Towns had 56 points through the first three periods. He sat down with 6:34 remaining shortly after picking up his fourth and fifth fouls within 45 seconds, but returned to the floor with three minutes left to set his career high.
Towns said he asked Finch what he wanted to do and that 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.