MINNEAPOLIS – No Kevin Garnett, no Paul Pierce, no chance for these Celtics?
It would be hard to argue otherwise. Remove Boston’s two best players and its odds of beating anyone just about bottom out, even against the sub-par Minnesota Timberwolves.
And with Garnett missing his sixth consecutive game with a sore left ankle and Pierce out because of personal reasons, the already short-handed Celtics came up short Monday against those very Timberwolves, losing 110-100, at Target Center.
The Celtics have lost two straight and seven of nine, and Garnett’s absence in the middle proved to be a big factor yet again the Timberwolves scored 62 in the paint as compared to 38 for the Celtics. Minnesota also scored 23 fast-break points while the Celtics had just 9.
It marked the sixth time in the last seven games that Boston has allowed an opponent to top the 100-point mark.
Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic, a hulking 6-foot-11, 281-pounder, had 29 points, making 9-of-15 from the floor and all 11 of his free throws. Andrei Kirilenko added 17 points and Dante Cunningham scored 19 off the bench. Ricky Rubio had 9 points and 10 assists.
The Timberwolves earned their first win against Boston since Feb. 11, 2007, snapping an 11-game skid.
Even with guard Avery Bradley scoring 19 points to bounce out of a long slump, the Celtics’ role players struggled to add much to the scoreboard. After scoring 27 points in two straight games, Jeff Green had 10. The Celtics’ bench helped -- Jason Terry had 14, Terrence Williams 14, Shavlik Randolph 11 – but it wasn’t enough.
The Celtics cut Minnesota’s lead to 7 on a three-point play by Jordan Crawford with 1:38 left in the third quarter. The Timberwolves opened up the fourth with a 12-4 run and never looked back.
The Celtics return to action Wednesday against Detroit at TD Garden.
Fourth quarter, 7:45, Minnesota 96-82: The Timberwolves opened up the fourth quarter on a 12-4 run. They have huge advantages in points in the paint (52 to 34) and fast-break points (23 to 5) and there's not much the Celtics can do about it. The game still is close, but it doesn't feel like it.
End of the third quarter, Minnesota 84-78: The Celtics bench has helped keep them in this, with 11 points from Jason Terry, 10 from Terrence Williams and 8 from Shavlik Randolph. Jeff Green has struggled and was taken out of the game. He has 8 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists but doesn't seem to be into this game. Avery Bradley has 17 points but four fouls. Points in the paint: Minnesota 46, Boston 30. Yep.
Third quarter, 6:25, Minnesota 74-62: Andrei Kirilenko scored 5 straight points to open the second half and give the Timberwolves a 10-point lead. The Celtics answered with a couple buckets, but Minnesota answered back with the player Boston hasn't slowed all night, Nikola Pekovic. Pek', as he is known, has 25 points. He has made 7 of his 11 shots from the floor and all 11 of his shots from the free-throw line. Kirilenko just added a fast-break dunk to give him 15 points. Timeout, Celtics.
Halftime: Minnesota 57-52: Avery Bradley has been excellent for the Celtics, rebounding from several poor outings to score 15 first-half points. But on the other end, the Celtics have been getting crushed inside by Nikola Pekovic, who has 21 points. Minnesota is winning the points-in-the-paint battle, 34 to 18. Bradley and Pekovic are the only players to score in double figures. Each team has 19 bench points and each crew is shooting better than 50 percent (51.2 percent for Minnesota, 52.5 for Boston).
Second quarter 3:55, Minnesota 45-38: Both teams are shooting well -- 51.6 percent from Boston and 47.1 percent for Minnesota. The Timberwolves have scored 24 of their points in the paint and Nikola Pekovic has 17 points. The Celtics have seven turnovers that Minnesota has converted into 10 points.
Second quarter, 7:01, Minnesota 38-36: The Celtics are starting to get a more balanced effort, with 7 points from Terrence Williams, 6 from Jason Terry and 6 from Jeff Green. That has helped them keep the game close. Ricky Rubio has 5 points and 5 assists.
End of the first quarter, Minnesota 27-25: The Celtics have no answer in the middle for Nikola Pekovic, who scored 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and 5-of-5 shooting from the free-throw line. The Timberwolves already have 16 points in the paint while the Celtics have 8. Avery Bradley has 8 points to lead Boston.
First quarter, 3:59, Minnesota 19-15: Nikola Pekovic returned after missing a game with a sprained left ankle and the Celtics have had a tough time slowing the mighty 6-foot-11, 281-pound Montenegro native. He has 11 points and has made 4-of-5 shots.
First quarter, 7:30, Tied, 9-9: Avery Bradley has six points, tripling his scoring out-put for the entire night against New York. Bradley will have his hands full with Ricky Rubio, who has 4 points. The Celtics are really trying to push the ball.