Kemba Walker returns from injury but Knicks wilt in final minutes, lose to Timberwolves at Garden

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Karl-Anthony Towns had just finished burying the Knicks and Julius Randle at MSG, owning the final four minutes of an emotional and physical Timberwolves victory. He was smiling. He was thanking God that the Knicks’ final shot clanged off the rim.

Then he turned to his teammate, Jaylen Nowell, and slapped his hand.

“Bing Bong that,” Towns said, adding an expletive at the end for emphasis.

The Knicks probably deserved the ridicule. During their fourth quarter run to a late five-point lead, the MSG PA system twice blasted its “Bing Bong” audio. It was a celebratory atmosphere for the home team. For a brief moment, Cardiac Kemba was back at the Garden. Julius Randle was barreling his way to a strong game, a real stat stuffer. Evan Fournier was cooking like a French chef.

It seemed a great night and great comeback for the Knicks.

And then the final 30 seconds happened.

“That’s the type of game that keeps you up at night,” Fournier said. “You kind of feel like (excrement) in the morning afterwards.”

Randle was one of many Knicks culprits in the meltdown of Tuesday’s 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves. He was burned by Towns for the biggest bucket of the game, an and-1 with 29 seconds remaining to give Minnesota its first lead of the fourth.

Five seconds later, Randle missed a free throw that could’ve tied the score. And New York’s final possession was a mess – an ugly miss by Evan Fournier, an offensive rebound, and a brick from Alec Burks.

There were no timeouts remaining to set up that final possession with 20 seconds remaining, and the Knicks called for ‘77 Oklahoma,’ a play the Thunder used to run with Kevin Durant.

It devolved into a contested Fournier runner that fell well short.

“Maybe I could have been a little more patient and just run the clock and just get a stepback or something that I’m really comfortable taking,” said Fournier, who was otherwise brilliant with a game-high 27 points. “I have to look (at the film). Like I said, it’s the type of play, it’s frustrating to miss it. I liked how I got to the paint. I didn’t like my finish obviously.”

Burks then grabbed the rebound and had an open potential game-winner at the top of the key, which he missed left.

When it was over, the Knicks managed just three points in the final 3:40. RJ Barrett committed two turnovers in the final 90 seconds. It was an ugly finish for the Knicks, and a triumph for Towns.

“I told my dad everyone’s going to get a chance to have their Madison Square Garden moment and I felt that was for me tonight. That was the biggest moment that I’ve had in MSG,” he said. “Great crowd, great atmosphere, great energy and I got to silence everybody, so that makes it even better.”

But for a while, it looked like Walker’s next great MSG moment.

The point guard returned from a nine-game absence in dramatic fashion, nailing three straight treys in the fourth quarter. He started at point guard, which tracks with Tom Thibodeau declaring Walker will only play if starting, and was on the court for most of the fourth quarter. It was an encouraging effort. Walker, who had been resting his arthritic knee since New Year’s Eve, finished with 19 points in 30 minutes.

“It means a lot for a player like that to have back,” Thibodeau said. “Get strong point guard play. Great shooting. Playmaking. Puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”

But the Knicks needed one more shot from Walker, who missed his final two treys. They couldn’t get that one shot from anybody. Zero field goals in the final 3:40.

Bing Bong.

“I’m definitely a little disappointed that we didn’t win, my first game back in a while,” Walker said. “Definitely wanted to win. But we got to keep grinding it out. This league is hard, man, it’s hard to win games in this league, super hard. No matter who you’re playing.”

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