BOSTON — Paul Pierce was content to set up his teammates while passing up his own shots. At halftime, Celtics coach Doc Rivers took him aside to remind him of his role on the team.
“I forgot we had Rondo out there,” Pierce said.
The Celtics captain scored 15 of his 23 points in the third quarter to help Boston overcome a double-digit deficit — and another double-digit rebounding performance by Kevin Love — and beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 96-93 on Monday night.
Pierce scored 11 straight Boston points in the third quarter to cut a 10-point deficit in half, then added a jumper to make it 73-70 heading into the fourth. Rondo, who missed seven games last month with a sprained ankle, had 16 assists, and when the Timberwolves played him to pass he made a pair of key baskets down the stretch.
“I thought Paul in the first half tried way too hard to get everybody involved,” Rivers said. “I told Paul, ‘You don’t need to be the playmaker. We need you to score.'”
Love had 24 rebounds and 12 points, but he airballed a jumper with just over a minute left and Minnesota trailing by one.
The Timberwolves had the ball out of bounds and a chance to take the lead with 10.3 seconds left. But Luke Ridnour, with a clear path to the basket, was called for traveling. (Ray Allen swatted the shot away anyway).
“I knew Ray had it. All the way,” Rivers said with a laugh. “Yeah, we put Ray back there to protect the basket.”
Michael Beasley, who scored 19 and Minnesota’s last four baskets, complimented Allen but didn’t think much of the traveling call.
“I’m not a referee,” he said. “That’s how they decided to call the game.”
After Nate Robinson made a pair of free throws, Minnesota had the ball on the side with 1.8 seconds left but Beasley’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the backboard.
The Timberwolves have now lost two of three games since a two-game winning streak that matched their longest of the season. They are 2-18 on the road, but 11 of their last 14 road losses have been by 10 points or less.
“It’s really frustrating,” Love said. “It’s tough losing games in the manner that we have. We show that we can play with everybody. It’s just not being able to close out the games.”
Allen scored 20 points and Glen “Big Baby” Davis had 17 for the Celtics, who haven’t lost to the Timberwolves since getting Kevin Garnett from them in the summer of 2007. Garnett missed his third straight game with a right calf injury.
Martell Webster scored 15 points, Darko Milicic had 14 and Ridnour scored 13 for the Timberwolves. Love had his 21st consecutive game with at least 10 rebounds and his sixth this season with more than 20.
“He’s tenacious,” Rivers said. “It was a Love-fest.”
Pierce hit a 3-pointer with 3:34 left in the left game to cut the deficit to 85-83 and then, after Beasley made a turnaround jumper, Pierce found Allen in the corner for a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. Shaquille O’Neal scored from underneath to give Boston its first lead since the first half.
Rondo laid in just his second basket of the game to make it 90-89 with 1:35 to play, then Love tried a 3-pointer that brushed the outside of the net as it came down. Davis, fouled on the fast break, hit both free throws with 73 seconds left to give Boston a 92-89 lead — its biggest since Allen hit a game-opening 3-pointer.
Beasley made another jumper, Rondo answered, and Beasley scored again before Rondo missed and Love grabbed his 24th rebound of the game.
Beasley found Ridnour breaking for the basket down the lane, but he took too many steps before his shot was swatted out of bounds by Allen.