MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gordon Hayward scored 29 points, Daniel Theis had career highs with 25 points and 16 rebounds and the Boston Celtics stayed strong out of the All-Star break, holding off the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-117 on Friday night.
Jalen Brown scored 25 points and Jayson Tatum had 28 points and 11 rebounds as fellow All-Star Kemba Walker sat out because of a minor knee injury. Marcus Smart had 10 points and a season-high 10 assists as the primary point guard in Walker’s place, helping the Celtics win for the ninth time in last 10 games. They’re 1 1/2 games behind defending NBA champion Toronto for second place in the suddenly stacked Eastern Conference.
Malik Beasley scored 27 points, D’Angelo Russell had 18 points and a season-high 13 assists, and Juancho Hernangomez added a season-high 17 points for the Timberwolves. They have lost 16 of 17 games. Playing without center Karl-Anthony Towns, whose broken wrist will keep him out at least another two weeks, the Wolves fell to 6-30 since Dec. 1.
Rookie point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who’s been on a two-way contract, made all three of his 3-point attempts for Minnesota, the last one that cut the lead to 100-98. The crowd was alive as the Wolves twice came within one point after that, only to fail to take back the lead they hadn’t had since midway through the first quarter.
After Theis muscled inside for a layup and Russell missed from deep, Tatum swished a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 119-11 edge with 3:55 to go.
Without Towns, the Timberwolves looked even more like a randomly patched together team, in the aftermath of their roster-rattling trades two weeks ago with Russell as the key acquisition. With plenty of youngsters seeking to prove their value and secure their future, they played with an energy the Celtics didn’t always mirror, even if their talent levels didn’t match.
Beasley, who had 16 points in the second quarter, pulled up for a 28-footer at the halftime horn to bring the Wolves within 61-53 right after Tatum had blown by them for a dunk on the other end.
Hayward had 15 points in the third quarter for the Celtics, who ran their lead up to 68-55 before the Wolves motored back. Beasley took a no-look backward bounce pass from Russell on a fast break for a layup that cut the lead to 72-67. Naz Reid’s 3-pointer then brought the Wolves within two.
TAKING CARE OF KEMBA
Walker was held out by left knee trouble, but his absence is not expected to be long-term. He had the joint drained and injected to address swelling and soreness that arose after the All-Star game. Walker will be re-evaluated on the next stop on the road trip, Los Angeles.
Walker, in his first season with Boston, played 46 minutes in the last game before the break. He also logged 29 minutes in the All-Star game itself, but the Celtics said his his injury was unrelated to the midseason showcase Sunday.
Celtics: Backup center Robert Williams who missed his 34th straight game with a left hip injury that has kept him out for 2 1/2 months, resumed practicing after the All-Star break. He joined with the team on this trip and is on track to rejoin the rotation next week upon return to Boston, subject to final medical clearance.
Timberwolves: With Towns sidelined, Reid had his first career start. The popular undrafted rookie from LSU had 19 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes, even hearing some stray “MVP!” chants during a fourth-quarter trip to the line.
Celtics: Play at the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Boston won the first matchup 139-107 at home on Jan. 20.
Timberwolves: Play at the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night to start a four-game, six-day trip.