Bass had 12 points, all but two of which came in the third quarter, and eight rebounds to help the Celtics wipe out a 51-47 halftime deficit. Garnett put up 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Boston held Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic to 12-for-28 shooting and the Celtics actually won the rebounding battle for once, 45-41.
Rajon Rondo handed out 11 dimes, marking his first straight game with double-digit assists. Hey, it is never too early to start thinking about another streak, is it?
Fourth quarter, 1:04, Celtics 104-90: Rivers had to be hoping his reserves could tack onto the lead and save him from having to throw Garnett into the game late in the fourth, but no dice. The Wolves kept it close enough for Garnett to have to hold things down for a bit, but the Big Ticket took a seat for good with three minutes left and snapped on his pants to get ready for Gino time.
Fourth quarter, 5:52, Celtics 91-77: For a moment there, we were ready to declare whoever hit the next free throw, wins.
The Wolves missed five of their first six foul shots to begin the quarter, then Courtney Lee went to the line and missed a pair. Rondo shortarmed his first attempt before saving everybody some agony and swishing the second.
Free throws were a big reason Minnesota was able to keep pace in the first half, but things got pretty ugly from the stripe. The Wolves were 9-for-22 from the line overall and just 1-for-8 in the second half. That’s not winning basketball.
Fourth quarter, 8:40, Celtics 87-75: With a steady march to the free throw line, Garnett and Sullinger picked up where Bass left off. Garnett and Sullinger shot 4-for-6 combined from the foul line in the first three minutes, with Garnett adding a jumper, as Boston extended its lead to a game-high 12 points.
On top of that, the Wolves were losing the rebounding battle. Don’t these guys know who they’re playing?
End of third quarter, Celtics lead 79-72: Bass and Rondo put the Celtics in capable hands in the third quarter. The Celtics surged ahead by outscoring the Wolves by 11 points in the quarter, which just happened to be Rondo’s plus-minus in the frame.
Bass was 5-for-5 from the field and blocked two shots in the quarter, filling in for an off Pierce, who bricked four of the five shots he took. Most importantly, the Celtics suddenly started to play at their pace and began controlling the ball. They committed only two turnovers in the quarter.
Third quarter, 6:29, game tied 61-61: Bass had a terrible first half by any measure. He missed all three shots he took and committed three personal fouls, but he spent the early part of the second half intent on making up for it.
Bass hit the first four shots he took in the period and even blocked a layup attempt by Howard to spark a fastbreak, leading to Wilcox getting fouled at the other end.
Bass’ efforts, along with more strong interior play by Garnett, helped the Celtics pull even after Minnesota effectively held them off for most of the quarter.
Halftime, Wolves lead 51-47: Do not look for closing minutes of this second quarter on many Celtics highlight reels. The Wolves played a poor quarter overall, shooting just 33 percent from the field and missing all seven 3-pointers that they took, but Boston let them off the hook down the stretch in the first half.
The Wolves outscored the Celtics 9-5 over the final 3:48 to pull into the lead entering halftime. If not for Kevin Love’s shoddy free throw shooting — he was 3-for-8 overall and 1-for-4 in the second quarter — the Celtics could have been looking at much more than a four-point deficit.
Love was the strongest Wolves player with 12 points and eight rebounds, but this guy is expected to be a double-double machine. More worrisome for the Celtics was Howard’s 10 points, which included a breakaway dunk as part of a putrid closing series for Boston.
Garnett dropped off after his hot start but still cruised into the break with 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Rondo had seven first-half assists in his return to the court and Pierce broke into double figures, but his four turnovers compounded a problem for the Celtics, who coughed up the ball 10 times in the first half. They gave Minnesota 14 free throws and seven second-chance points, even though the rebounding battle was pretty close at 24-21. The Wolves’ six offensive boards were a bigger problem for the C’s.
Second quarter, 2:26, Celtics 45-44: There was really no easy way to describe just how directionless the Celtics looked over the last few possessions. They did not put a body on any Wolves player on rebounds, they rotated to the wrong man and when they did rotate to the right man, two defenders often rotated to him at once, leaving somebody wide open.
That happened when Pierce and Terry both came out to guard Alexey Shved, allowed Pekovic to easily slip past Chris Wilcox, who was helping the helpers, to get to the hoop. Wilcox had no choice but to foul.
Minnesota took a timeout, but it was Boston that needed to talk it over. We should not need to tell you that Garnett was not on the floor for that sequence.
Second quarter, 6:35, Celtics 39-36: In the upset of the night, the Celtics actually were winning the rebounding battle midway through the second quarter. And by winning, we mean tied at 14-14. For the rebounding-challenged Celtics, a tie is a victory as far as we’re concerned.
Second quarter, 8:50, Celtics 35-32: In Green’s up-and-down comeback campaign, this one looked like an “up” game. Green came off the bench firing, taking seven shots in his first five minutes and making four of them. He attacked the rim, as he does when he is playing well, even challenging Stiemsma a couple of times.
End of first quarter, Wolves lead 30-25: Stiemsma wasted little time getting reacquainted with his old friends on the parquet — and blocking his first shot. Stiemsma checked in a scored a layup less than a minute later, then blocked a layup attempt by Jeff Green, although Green rebounded his own miss and scored the putback.
Stiemsma’s impact was evident on Boston’s final possession of the period, when Rondo drove the lane and Stiemsma stepped up to help. Rondo, who is familiar with Stiemsma’s shot-blocking exploits, tossed a high teardrop that plopped through the hoop.
First quarter, 2:27, Wolves 23-21: From the sound of the distressed cries from the crowd, Celtics fans were aghast that their squad could have trouble early on with an 8-8 Wolves team.
Although this is rarely the case, the Wolves are not what their record says they are. Kevin Love returned just seven games ago and Minnesota’s casualty list is long. Malcolm Lee, a second-year guard out of UCLA who appeared in only 19 games last season, started against the Celtics. It was his ninth start of the season in 13 games. That is how decimated by injuries the Wolves have been.
First quarter, 5:30, Celtics 17-14: It is incredible that Josh Howard was sitting out there for anybody to sign just a few weeks ago. In the nine games since Howard joined the Wolves, he has given them a veteran body who has even started four games, including this one. He was responsible for half of Minnesota’s first 14 points.
On the other side, Kevin Garnett carried Boston with eight early points by hitting all four shots he took.
7:12 p.m.: Greg Stiemsma should not expect to get a Christmas card from the Rivers family this season. The shot-blocking specialist who turned a breakout rookie season with the Celtics into a multiyear deal with the T’Wolves last summer is persona non grata as far as his former coach is concerned.
“I’m pissed at him,” Rivers said. “I’m never going to talk to him again.”
Really? Well, no. Not really.
“No, I’d love to have him here, but I’m just happy for him,” Rivers said shortly before his team faced off against Stiemsma’s new team at the TD Garden. “He’s a great kid. Listen, he took advantage of a great situation and I’m glad he did. He was terrific here.”
Stiemsma has been about as productive in Minnesota as he was with the Celtics, perhaps even a bit more productive. He is averaging a modest 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, but his fouls are down and his per-minute numbers are up overall. He is in the first and only guaranteed year of a two-year deal with the Wolves.
The projected starting lineups, which do not include the Stiemer, appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Rajon Rondo is back in uniform, and not a moment too soon for the Celtics. The point guard returns from a two-game suspension when Boston hosts a young and energetic Timberwolves team at the TD Garden.
The Wolves have been decimated by injuries this season, with Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko all on the shelf. Kevin Love made his long-awaited return to the court two weeks ago, but the results have not been what Minnesota expected. Entering Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia, the Wolves were 2-4 since Love got healthy. Still, they have shown some fight despite the rash of health issues and have battled to hover around .500 thus far. Guys like Jose Barea, Alexey Shved and Derrick Williams will push the tempo, which is why the Celtics will be fortunate to have Rondo helping them keep pace.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.