PORTLAND, Ore. -- Karl-Anthony Towns did not turn around after the ball left his fingertips. He already knew it was good.
Tayshaun Prince inbounded the ball and found Towns in the paint with 1.8 seconds left. The rookie hit a turnaround hook shot to give the Minnesota Timberwolves a 106-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night.
"I didn't know who was on me at all," Towns said. "All I knew is that I had to make the basket for my teammates. I've hit a lot of those right-hooks in my career. I knew it was good when I went up."
With Towns' clutch basket, the Timberwolves held off a furious rally by the Trail Blazers.
Interim head coach Sam Mitchell said that Towns, a leading candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year, has been leading the Timberwolves all season.
"He's had an amazing rookie season," Mitchell said. "After about 40 games, we were waiting for him to hit that elusive rookie wall and I would talk to him about it and he would say, `Coach, I'm not going to hit it."
Minnesota led 100-93 after Tayshaun Prince's jumper with 3:03 left, but Damian Lillard's floater with 1:01 left closed the gap to 101-99.
Andrew Wiggins split a pair of free throws with 41 seconds remaining, but Lillard made a layup with 13.3 seconds left that put the Blazers within one at 102-101 in a game that had been tight all the way through.
After Zach LaVine's free throws for the Timberwolves, Lillard made a 3-pointer and was fouled with 3.5 seconds left to pull the Blazers in front for a 105-104 lead.
Towns' winning shot gave him 27 points, and the Timberwolves snapped an eight-game losing streak in Portland. Andrew Wiggins added 23 points.
"Obviously, it came down to the last minute," Stotts said. "But after the first quarter, we really never were as good as we needed to be defensively. Give credit to Minnesota. They played well. They've been playing well lately. They got momentum, they made big shots and they made big plays. So it's a disappointing loss."
By virtue of Minnesota winning and the defending champion Golden State Warriors defeating the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland is a half-game ahead of the Grizzlies in the race for the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
A second-quarter spurt put the Timberwolves back in the game. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Towns put up nine points in the second to help the Timberwolves outscore the Blazers by 11 in the quarter. At the half, Minnesota led 53-49 after closing out the quarter on an 11-4 run.
"It was a little frustrating," Lillard said. "We didn't play as consistent or as urgent as we need to in the second, third and fourth quarters after a good start to the game. It was a little frustrating especially after giving ourselves a lead at the end. Basically, because we thought we didn't deserve to win, we didn't. If a play like that happens at the end, it's so much bigger than that play."
The Blazers had only two field goals over the final 5:30 of the third quarter.
WHAT MIGHT'VE BEEN
With a win, the Blazers would've had more control over where they finished in the standings. Now, they will have to depend on help from other teams going into their final game on Wednesday against Denver.
"I mean, we're in the playoffs. We just want to do the right things every game. That's the biggest thing is play the right way and give ourselves a chance every night, the best chance. Tonight we didn't do that," Lillard said. "But like I said, we're in and whoever we end up playing, that's what it is. We want to push ourselves to get as high as we can and finish the season off the right way."
Timberwolves: Have not won three straight since late-November.
Trail Blazers: Meyers Leonard, who injured his shoulder late in the season, had surgery Friday in Los Angeles. He will be out 6-to-8 months. ... Ed Davis was named the recipient of the 2015-16 Maurice Lucas Award, which honors the Trail Blazers player who best embodies Lucas through his contributions on and off the court.
Timberwolves: host Houston on Monday.
Trail Blazers: host Denver on Wednesday.
- James Capers
- Gary Zielinski
- Leroy Richardson