MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ever since Minnesota traded him to Boston six years ago, Kevin Garnett has always come in and bullied his old team to devastating effect.
Garnett wasn’t in the building to save the Celtics on Monday night. Without him roaming the paint, Nikola Pekovic flattened the reeling Celtics.
Pekovic bruised and battered the overmatched Boston front line for 29 points to lead the Timberwolves to a 110-100 victory.
“We had no one that could deal with that big monster they had down there,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Andrei Kirilenko had 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Dante Cunningham scored 19 points off the bench for the Wolves, who delivered coach Rick Adelman his 998th career victory.
Avery Bradley scored 19 points for Boston, which was playing without Paul Pierce and Garnett. The Celtics, who are just 1½ games ahead of eighth-place Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference playoff race, have lost seven of their last nine games.
This one snapped an 11-game winning streak against the Wolves, who beat Boston for the first time since Garnett was traded there in 2007.
Jeff Green had a quiet night with just 10 points and seven rebounds, while Jason Terry and Terrence Williams each scored 14 points for Boston, which was a step slow on the second night of a back-to-back.
“Big emphasis, get your mind right, whatever you have to do individually to do that, that’s what we need, because you’re going to have to be so locked in,” Celtics veteran Jason Terry said after circling the locker room to try to boost his teammates’ spirits.
Without Garnett there to throw elbows and spew intensity, the thin Celtics frontcourt was powerless to stand up to Pekovic in the paint. He bulled his way to the bucket for 15 points in the first quarter. And when he wasn’t scoring, he was racking up the fouls on Chris Wilcox and Shavlik Randolph, the only two big men left on the roster. Wilcox didn’t last five minutes before picking up his second foul and Randolph had three by early in the second quarter.
“They just didn’t have anybody,” Adelman said. “With all their guys out, especially when Wilcox got in foul trouble right away, we did a nice job of finding him, and he did a great job of being active.”
After missing the game against Memphis on Saturday with a sprained left ankle, Pekovic jumped right back into the middle of things and forced the Celtics to throw double-teams at him in the post. The Wolves outscored Boston 62-38 in the paint and Pekovic was a perfect 11 for 11 from the foul line. It was the kind of commanding performance against an overmatched opponent that could earn the big fella a lot of money this summer.
Pekovic will be a restricted free agent come July 1, and the Wolves want to retain him. But centers are hard to come by in this day and age, and he could have several suitors.
“I hope it’s here,” Pekovic said. “That’s what I’m thinking about only. That’s my preference, to stay here. I like it. I enjoy it. I hope I’ll stay.”
For once, the Timberwolves had the healthiest team on the floor.
One day after twisting his left ankle against the Knicks, Pierce did not make the trip because of personal reasons and Rajon Rondo has been out since the end of January with a torn ACL in his right knee. Garnett, the face of the Timberwolves franchise for 12 years, was not in town either while he dealt with inflammation in his left ankle, much to the chagrin of a Minnesota basketball community that still adores him.
Boston’s annual visit to Target Center is still one of the most anticipated games of the year, with Minnesota fans pulling on their blue No. 21s and their green No. 5s to cheer for the biggest star the team has ever had. Without KG in the building, the crowd was rather subdued, and Rivers openly hoped that it wouldn’t be the last time Garnett had a chance to play in Minnesota.
“Every year we don’t know if it’s his last time,” Rivers said before the game. “Obviously I hope not and we all hope not, but you never know with Kevin. Every summer from this point on in his career he’s going to decide if he’s coming back or not. I would hope that this isn’t (his last year) because I think you would want him to play in this last game here. So let’s hope that this isn’t.”
NOTES: The Celtics whistled for 21 fouls in the game, while the Timberwolves got just 11. … The Timberwolves scored a season-high 23 fast-break points. … Ricky Rubio had nine points and 10 assists for the Timberwolves.
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