LAS VEGAS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, scored 12 points in his professional debut Friday night to help the Minnesota Timberwolves to an 81-68 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell in the NBA Summer League.
Russell finished with eight points.
Towns said he was nervous when he came out of the locker room at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, and made his way down the venue’s famous tunnel, decorated with murals of past Runnin’ Rebel greats.
“He really settled down into a good comfort zone, the guys calmed him down and made him feel comfortable with everything and really that’s him being a savvy kid,” Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said.
The highly anticipated matchup created quite the buzz at the arena, where the lower bowl was filled to capacity with mostly purple-and-gold clad Lakers fans who began arriving at the arena roughly four hours before tip-off.
By game time, several sections in the upper bowl were opened to eliminate fans sitting in the stairwells.
But a rather lackluster performance by both top picks was overshadowed by Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Los Angeles’ Jordan Clarkson. LaVine, the league’s reigning Slam Dunk champion, led all scorers with 24 points, while Clarkson finished with 23 for the Lakers.
LaVine, who said he got over his first-game jitters in last year’s summer league with a slam dunk for his first pro shot, was highly impressed by his new teammate. He said he could sense Towns’ nervousness before the game, but wanted to let him play his game and only offer advice in spot situations.
“I just let him do what he does well,” LaVine said. “He can really pass that ball. He can shoot and pass and he competed. That was the biggest thing.”
The Timberwolves had five players finish in double figures, including Lorenzo Brown, who contributed with 17, and Othyus Jeffers’ 14.
Towns was upbeat and jovial after the game, emphasizing the most important aspect of the first summer game was to get the win, and not about the top two draft picks meeting one another.
“It doesn’t matter what the back (of the jersey) says, it matters what the front says,” said Towns, who also had three rebounds and four assists.
“We went out there as a team and we wanted to come away with the W. I think you could see on the court, for as young as we are, we have a lot of chemistry. We did a great job tonight as a team, taking that first step of changing the view of this team and making us a winning team.”
Meanwhile, with Lakers coach Byron Scott sitting baseline in Laker gold, watching with general manager Mitch Kupchak, Russell seemed comfortable running the Lakers’ offense at times, and frustrated at others.
Inserted for the final 3:51 of the game, Russell turned the ball over his first possession back in, and with his last attempt of the game, fired an airball from 3-point range with 16 seconds left. The 6-foot-5 guard finished with six assists, three steals and five turnovers — the most of any player from either team.
Russell knows that he and Towns will be linked for the remainder of their careers; such is life for any duo that goes 1-2 in the same draft.
For their first time together on the court as pros, Russell came away impressed with what he saw from the No. 1 pick.
“We take one step at a time to keep reaching our goals individually,” Russell said. “But he’s a great player. You saw tonight, his ceiling is high. So I’m just going to keep working and keep competing.”
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