Timberwolves Suffer Season High Third Straight Loss
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kyrie Irving returned from a one-game absence to help Boston fend off Minnesota, finishing with 23 points in a 117-109 victory over the Timberwolves Thursday that clinched a spot in the playoffs for the Celtics.
"That's one of the goals," Irving said. "Just glad we got it out of the way pretty early."
Al Horford added 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and tough defense on Karl-Anthony Towns for the Celtics, who stayed two games behind Toronto in the Eastern Conference race with their sixth win in seven games. They have three more losses than the Raptors.
Marcus Morris added 17 points for the Celtics, whose good vibes were tempered a bit by the hard landing Jaylen Brown took on his back after a dunk late in the third quarter. He was able to walk off on his own with 14 points, evaluated for concussion-like symptoms and taken to a hospital for precautionary testing.
"I was terrified. I mean, I know what that fall is like," said backup Marcus Smart. "I've done it in high school, the same way. For him to get up, that's a strong kid."
Strength was the name of this game for the Celtics, who overcame a career-high 30 points by Nemanja Bjelica on 11-for-16 shooting, including 6 for 9 from 3-point range. Bjelica's first 20-10 game in the NBA was ultimately wasted in the season-high third straight loss for the Timberwolves, who are still trying to find their way without injured All-Star Jimmy Butler. They trailed by as many as 18 points soon after halftime, too much to overcome some second-half surges behind Bjelica and 18 points from Taj Gibson on 8-for-10 shooting.
"We have to understand how hard and physical you have to play," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think that's the difference right now between us being a really good team and being a good team."
The Wolves were within five at 88-83 in the fourth quarter, but every other time they were on the verge of cutting the margin to two possessions Irving and the Celtics had an answer on the other end.
Towns finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Jamal Crawford pitched in 15 points. But Andrew Wiggins went 1 for 8 from 3-point range and 6 for 21 from the floor for a too-quiet 13 points. He had four turnovers.
"They were the aggressor," Wiggins said. "They were the harder-playing team."