Clippers defeat Timberwolves 119-112, spoil Towns’ return

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kawhi Leonard had a season-high 36 points and Lou Williams added 27 points off the bench as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated Minnesota 119-112 yesterday and spoiled the return of Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns.

Leonard and Williams hit shots down the stretch, including a pair of late three-pointers by Leonard, to thwart Minnesota’s comeback try. Los Angeles snapped its first two-game losing streak of the season.

After trailing by six at halftime, the Clippers outscored Minnesota 33-20 in the third quarter as Los Angeles pulled away.

“We kind of turned it up in that second quarter and third quarter,” Leonard said. “We needed a better fourth quarter, but I’m happy we got the win.”

Towns had 18 points and 10 rebounds in his return to action after missing 13 games. Towns announced on January 15 that he tested positive for COVID-19 and remained on the league’s health and safety protocol list until yesterday, when coach Ryan Saunders said Towns was a game-time decision.

Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard shoots as Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns defends. PHOTO: AP

“I thought he competed,” Saunders said. “His wind was good; 18 and 10 coming back from a layoff like he did was a good night for him.”

Towns detailed his bout with COVID in his postgame comments, noting that underlying conditions made his battle with the virus especially tough. His mother, Jacqueline, died from virus complications last April.

“I’m a high-risk case. COVID did not treat me well whatsoever,” Towns said. “A lot of scary nights. My dad called me 24/7.”

It was Towns’ first game in nearly a month. He last played on January 13.

“I was just smiling on the court, even when it got to the end, because I was just so proud of myself to get to this point,” Towns said. “It’s been a long process.”

Naz Reid led Minnesota with 23 points off the bench, and Malik Beasley added 21. The Timberwolves have lost three in a row and eight of 10.

Minnesota led by as many as 13 points in the first half before watching its lead disappear. The Timberwolves’ bench built up the first-half lead behind strong efforts from Jaylen Nowell and rookie Jaden McDaniels.

Trailing at the half, the Clippers used an 11-3 run to take the lead early in the third quarter. Leonard scored 10 of Los Angeles’ 33 points in the third and the Clippers carried an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter.

“There’s a reason they’re the best third-quarter team in the league,” Saunders said. “They came out and they played like a team that’s a championship contender.”

Patrick Beverley returned for the Clippers following an eight-game absence with a right knee injury.

The Clippers welcomed back Beverley’s vocal leadership on the court, something they missed while he was out.