MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Boston’s defense looked, well, like it was still on vacation for much of the game.
The Celtics still had plenty of firepower on the other end, staying strong out of the All-Star break.
Gordon Hayward scored 29 points, Daniel Theis had career highs with 25 points and 16 rebounds and the Celtics fended off the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-117 on Friday night.
“The strength of our team is just the amount of guys that can go off at any point in time, especially when you’re making the right plays and getting easy looks,” Hayward said. “We’re too talented. We just need to continue to do that.”
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. The four players at 25 or more points marked just the second such occurrence in Celtics history. Tom Heinsohn, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman did it on Jan. 20, 1960.
“It just shows how deep and how good our team is,” Theis said.
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 on the first stop of a four-game road trip. They’re 1 1/2 games behind defending NBA champion Toronto for second place in the suddenly stacked Eastern Conference.
Though the Celtics have allowed the third-lowest opponent scoring average in the league, the short-handed Timberwolves did plenty of damage with the ball despite taking their 16th loss in 17 games. 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.
Rookie Naz Reid had 19 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes, starting for the injured Karl-Anthony Towns. Reid got Theis benched just two minutes into the game for an uncontested layup. The Wolves equaled every bit of energy from the Celtics, even if the talent levels didn’t match.
“At the end, everybody knows I don’t care about the scoring. I care about the defensive part. We’ve still got to get better on defense. We gave up a lot of stuff,” Theis said.
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 again 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. Reid’s 3-pointer then brought the Wolves within two.
Rookie point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who’s on a two-way contract for Minnesota, made all three of his 3-point attempts, 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.
“When you play a team like Boston, the way they approach this season, the way they’re kind of navigating this season, you know you have to be pretty much close to perfect to come out with a victory,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “We weren’t that tonight.”
With Reid and James Johnson trying to man the paint, the Wolves were outrebounded 58-43. In the aftermath of their roster-rattling trades two weeks ago and the injury to Towns, they’re particularly thin in the frontcourt.
“They were very tough with the guards, their height, Tatum and Brown crashing in, and then the bigs going at it,” Reid said. “It’s kind of hard to check out all of those guys. But I attempted to, and things didn’t go our way.”
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 even heard 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.
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