Karl-Anthony Towns' return lifts Wolves to key win in West race

KAT with a wild no-look dime to Gobert for a slam (0:17)

Karl-Anthony Towns dishes an impressive no-look dime Rudy Gobert for a Timberwolves flush. (0:17)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Karl-Anthony Towns returned from an 18-game absence due to a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee and helped spark the Minnesota Timberwolves to a critical 109-106 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

Towns, who had been sidelined since March 4 and had surgery to repair the injury on March 12, started and had 11 points, five rebounds and eight assists. He hit a big 3-pointer with 2:29 to play to give Minnesota a 101-100 lead, and the Wolves held on down the stretch.

The win moved the Minnesota into a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference with the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder with one game to play.

"The only way you can get help is if you help yourself first," Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. "Then we'll see what happens. Either way though, Game 82 and we're playing for a chance to win the Western Conference -- it's been a heck of a regular season."

The Wolves went 12-6 in Towns' absence and will begin the playoffs on April 20 or 21.

"Having had so much time to watch this team and watch from a different lens gave me a good understanding of what I can do when I go out there to help this team and impact it the most," said Towns, who went 4-for-11 from the field and added eight assists and five rebounds.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.