April 20, 2018
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Minnesota records its first win in six years over Celtics

By The Sports Xchange, Special to the BDN

MINNEAPOLIS — Afterward, they chided him. With good nature, of course.

Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman pointed out that while center Nikola Pekovic might have scored 29 points, he only got five rebounds.

“He was an offensive player tonight,” Adelman joked. “That’s what he said.”

Teammate Andrei Kirilenko needled Pekovic for taking Saturday’s game off with a sprained ankle.

Through it all, Pekovic just laughed.

With reason. Pekovic scored 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, leading the Timberwolves to a 110-100 victory over the injury-riddled Boston Celtics.

Pekovic opened the game by getting Celtics center Chris Wilcox into early foul trouble. Pekovic scored 15 points in the first quarter, 21 in the first half.

Pekovic was part of a starting Wolves frontcourt with Andrei Kirilenko (17 points) and Derrick Williams (11) that combined for 57 points. Forward Dante Cunningham came off the bench to score 19, including 12 in the fourth quarter.

“Pek did such a great job in the first quarter,” Kirilenko said. “He put them in foul trouble, put them in that kind of position that we knew we were going to be dominating in the paint tonight. And it went on for the whole game.”

The Celtics (38-36) were playing without injured Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett and with Paul Pierce away for personal reasons.

The remaining Celtics roster played well — shooting 51.9 percent from the field — but Boston just couldn’t deal with Pekovic’s physical play while losing for the seventh time in nine games.

“It feels great,” Pekovic said about his ankle and the way he played. “Great game for us. But I couldn’t do anything without my teammates. They were finding me in the right spot and the right time, when I was in good position. Everything worked perfect tonight.”

The Wolves (27-46) scored 100 points for the fifth time in seven games while winning for the fourth time in that stretch. They scored 62 points in the paint, a season-high 23 on fast breaks. Ricky Rubio had 10 of the Wolves’ 30 assists. Minnesota turned the ball over just 10 times.

Together, it was enough to end an 11-game losing streak to the Celtics that dated to 2007.

Boston was led by Avery Bradley’s 19 points. Jason Terry and Terrence Williams each had 14 points off the bench.

“I thought we played hard,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We had no one that could deal with that big monster they had down there. I was kidding with (assistant coach Mike) Longabardi. I thought he made a great defensive adjustment. He held (Pekovic) to eight points in the second half.”

The Wolves’ offense has begun to flourish as the team has become healthier. Monday’s victory gave Adelman his 998th career win; the Wolves need only to win twice in their final nine games for Adelman to become the eighth NBA coach with 1,000.

“We’re moving the ball better,” Adelman said. “There is a better understanding of what we want to do, especially when Pek’s out there. We know he’s going to draw attention. Our guards are doing a nice job. Just a good, solid win.”

NOTES: Garnett missed his sixth straight game with left ankle inflammation. Pierce, meanwhile, was not with the team for personal reasons. Pierce turned his right ankle in New York Sunday, but Rivers said his absence was not injury-related. Asked if he remembered the last time the Celtics played a game without Pierce, Garnett and Rondo, Rivers laughed. “Vividly,” he said. “About five years ago. It has been a while.” Rivers hopes to have a handful of games with both Rivers and Garnett back before the playoffs. … Pekovic returned after missing a game with a sprained left ankle. Pekovic has missed 16 games with various injuries this year after missing 22 of 66 games with injuries. Still, Adelman is not concerned about Pekovic being able to stay healthy long term — if Pekovic modifies his game, adding some finesse. “That rather than just banging all the time,” Adelman said. “He needs to mix things up a little bit.”

Pistons 108, Raptors 98

Greg Monroe scored 24 points and Jose Calderon chipped in 19 and nine assists in his return to Toronto as visiting Detroit rallied in the fourth quarter to salvage a split of the season series with the Raptors.

Rodney Stuckey scored 18 points and Jonas Jerebko added 15 to lead a strong bench effort for the Pistons, who snapped a three-game losing streak by winning for only the second time in 15 games. Khris Middleton contributed 11 points as Detroit’s reserves combined for 51.

Rudy Gay poured in 34 points and rookie Jonas Valanciunas added 17 for the Raptors, who have dropped seven of eight overall and four straight at home.

Toronto led by one at halftime and stretched it to 79-75 after three quarters. It was 81-77 before the Pistons ripped off a 13-0 run to take command.

Gay hit a 3-pointer to give Toronto a 94-93 lead with 4:31 left, but Middleton answered with a 3-pointer at the other end to set off an 8-0 spurt, and Detroit didn’t trail again.

Hawks 102, Cavaliers 94

Devin Harris scored 25 points and Jeff Teague added 19 and nine assists as host Atlanta sent Cleveland to its ninth straight loss.

Josh Smith had 18 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists and Al Horford returned from a two-game layoff due to an illness to produce 16 points for the Hawks, who moved back into fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind idle Brooklyn.

Marreese Speights led the Cavaliers with a season high-tying 23 points. Cleveland played without All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who is being held out of the second half of back-to-backs as he returns from a shoulder injury.

Smith had six points during a 20-8 surge that bridged the third and fourth quarters and enabled Atlanta to establish an 83-68 advantage with 11 minutes to go. The Cavaliers responded with a 9-0 burst and were within 91-83 when Speights scored with 4:50 left.

Teague answered with his fourth and final 3-pointer and Harris converted a layup to make it a 13-point game. Cleveland never got closer than six thereafter in matching its longest losing streak since an NBA-record 26-game slide in 2010-11.

GAME NOTEBOOK: PG Shaun Livingston had 14 points and six assists in making another start in place of Irving. … Cleveland shot 50.6 percent but made six fewer 3-pointers and 10 fewer free throws. … Kyle Korver hit three 3-pointers and has made one in 68 straight games, now tied with Reggie Miller for the fourth-longest streak in NBA history.

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