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Celtics 96, Timberwolves 93

Taking it away

Love snares 24 rebounds but Celtics grab win

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 4, 2011

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When Rajon Rondo overcame his offensive timidity, the Celtics turned into his team again and his resurrection last night occurred just in time to avoid an embarrassing loss.

The Celtics stumbled and bumbled nearly all night against the Timberwolves, who played nothing like a team with a 2-18 road record. But in the waning minutes, Minnesota reverted to form and the Celtics used their experience and Rondo’s execution to prevail.

Rondo converted two field goals in the final 1:35 as the Celtics rallied from an 8-point deficit with 6:55 left to edge the Wolves, 96-93, at TD Garden.

Rondo canned a 9-foot runner with 1:35 left for a 90-89 lead and then added a 15-footer from the left elbow with 44.9 seconds left to provide a 3-point lead as the Celtics ended on a 19-8 run after looking lethargic the first 42 minutes.

In his second game after a two-week absence because of a sprained ankle, Rondo finished with 6 points and 16 assists. Paul Pierce led Boston with 23 points and Ray Allen sparked the run with two key 3-pointers.

It was barely enough to overcome a dominant rebounding effort by Kevin Love, who pummeled the Celtics under the boards, finishing with a whopping 24 rebounds in 44 minutes, the most in a game in the 15-year history of TD Garden. With 12 points, he also collected his 20th consecutive double-double.

“It’s two nights in a row we’ve had bad rebounding nights,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “So it gives us something to work on. [Love’s] tenacious. It was a Love-fest. Love’s terrific. He’s tenacious. You know, it hurt having Baby [Glen Davis] in foul trouble, obviously, because we wanted his big body on Love’s big body. I think he had 10 [boards] in the first quarter. He gets a ton of them.’’

Neither team scored for more than three minutes midway through the fourth quarter, but Pierce brought the Celtics to within 85-83 with a 3-pointer, his first of the game, with 3:34 left, and the crowd became energized after spending most of the evening stunned that the Timberwolves were playing so well.

After a Michael Beasley jumper, Allen canned a 3-pointer after Pierce drew two defenders and dished to Allen on the left side. Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis frantically waved his defense to cover Allen, but it was too late.

The Celtics’ offense began to find a groove and Rondo began to find confidence in his shot. The Timberwolves had one chance to go ahead but Luke Ridnour, who got loose off an inbounds play for a drive to the basket, traveled in anticipation of scoring with nine seconds left. Nate Robinson drained two clinching free throws and the Celtics escaped.

The key down the stretch was Rondo, who capitalized on a defense content to let him shoot at will. Even on post-up plays against the smaller Jonny Flynn, Rondo had no intention of shooting. He finally released the pivotal 15-footer after running out of passing options.

“Our whole team tried to get Rondo going,’’ Rivers said. “You could see how they were playing Rondo. We were trying to get Rondo to take shots. We wanted him to take shots. It’s the next step for him. He can make those shots. That’s what so frustrating for our guys. He passed up at least six or seven of them.

“Rondo can make those shots. We just have to get him to make them after a miss and take another because the way they guarded him tonight is the way they are going to guard us in the playoffs. All teams.’’

Rivers cleared his bench to provide energy. Luke Harangody received his most important minutes of the season, but he missed all four shot attempts. Robinson also was 0 for 4 from the field. The entire night was a struggle for the Celtics until the final four minutes.

The Timberwolves widened the lead to 67-57 after a Beasley jumper in the latter stages of the third quarter, but Pierce and Von Wafer sparked a 13-6 quarter-ending run. Wafer appeared to be the lone Celtic interested in competing for rebounds, and Pierce began pushing the ball to the basket.

Wafer led the Celtics with six rebounds, evidence of how poorly they attacked the glass.

Love’s rebounding pace was mind-boggling. He grabbed nine in the first eight minutes of the game and outrebounded the Celtics for the entire first half, 15-14. Seeing Love in person was not like watching a circus act. He didn’t have four or five arms. He just seemed to be in the right place at all times when the ball came off the rim.

“Much credit to him,’’ Allen said. “He knows how to get to the ball. There’s not anybody in the league like him. He had 10 rebounds in the first quarter, and I was worried about what he was going to have for the game. He has a knack for keeping his body in motion around the basket. He’s built like a refrigerator, so you can’t really move him.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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