MINNEAPOLIS - The Celtics are getting back to their blowout ways.
But they made things difficult for a half before routing the Timberwolves, 95-78, in Kevin Garnett's homecoming game last night.
The Celtics (12-2) fell behind, 39-36, then nearly matched that output with a 35-10 third quarter. And, as in their 98-80 win over Detroit Thursday, the starters took the final quarter off.
Garnett (17 points) attempted to downplay his first game at the Target Center in a Celtics uniform, remained composed, and teamed up with Rajon Rondo to spark the third-quarter spurt.
"I was really worried about this game," coach Doc Rivers said. "Not just the Kevin thing, but the amount of games we've played. In the first half, we couldn't make a shot. Everything was hitting the front of the rim and we looked like we were running in mud. Our guys in the second half, they just reached out from somewhere and came out with great energy."
The Celtics equaled a season high for points in a quarter and a season low for a half - both set in a 94-87 win over Toronto (tomorrow's opponent) Nov. 10 at TD Banknorth Garden.
But a combination of Celtics defense and Minnesota's offensive ineptness turned the contest into a non-contest.
Brian Scalabrine's 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer gave the Celtics a 22-21 lead after the first quarter. But Minnesota (2-9) started the second with a 10-2 run, Rodney Carney's foul shot extending the lead to 31-22 with 8:30 to play in the half. The Celtics failed to capitalize on a strong start defensively - they held Minnesota to 12-for-44 (.273) shooting in the first half.
But the Celtics, who arrived at 3 a.m. yesterday, soon started to awaken.
Minnesota scored only once from the field over an 11:50 span covering the second and third quarters. Al Jefferson's third-chance score upped the Minnesota lead to 35-30 with 3:44 remaining in the first half.
But the Celtics started the second half with an 11-2 run and never looked back. Randy Foye's transition drive gave the Timberwolves a 41-40 lead a minute and a half into the second half. Minnesota scored only once more from the field - on Jefferson's 3-pointer with 4:01 to go - for the rest of a 2-for-17 quarter.
Rondo capped a 21-3 quarter-ending run with a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 71-49 Celtics advantage, giving the starters the final quarter off.
"I thought Kevin almost talked himself into not being too emotional, so he almost went the other way," said Rivers. "I liked the nutty, high-energy Kevin and I thought in the second half he started playing again. He almost talked himself out of playing in the first half."
Rondo (13 points) sparked the offense for the second successive night. He found Garnett twice on lobs over the Timberwolves' defense and single-handedly outscored Minnesota with 11 points in the third quarter. The Celtics' reserves gave the team a boost briefly in the first half, then Tony Allen (14 points) led the way in the final quarter.
"[Rondo] had a great second half," Rivers said. "He's got to really work on staying aggressive, staying in attack mode. In the first half, he was thinking too much and trying to get guys involved instead of taking what was given to him. I thought we did that as a whole. Our whole talk at halftime was making sure we were turning the corner on every drive, and to stop dancing around with the ball. And I thought we did that in the second half."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.