By Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange
BOSTON - His team was down in the early minutes of the second half Wednesday night, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn't overly concerned.
"I liked the pace. I liked the tempo," Rivers said, after the Celtics, getting Rajon Rondo back after his two-game league suspension, got hot in the third quarter and wound up cruising to a 104-94 victory over the Timberwolves.
"I didn't know what was going to happen but I liked where we were at," Rivers said. "You just felt if we kept playing that way then we had a very good chance to win."
Boston was down by four at the half and trailed 61-58 when Minnesota's Malcolm Lee scored with 7:29 left in the third. The Celtics then went on a 9-0 run over a 1:57 span, the last five coming from Jason Terry, and had the lead for good.
Rondo, suspended for starting the fracas with Kris Humphries and the Nets last week, scored 17 points (13 in the second half) and dished out 11 assists. He started a new streak of double-digit assist games after he had his run of 37 straight snapped with the ejection against Brooklyn.
Kevin Garnett, playing against his old team, had 18 points and 10 rebounds in 27 spirited minutes, but it was a third-quarter spurt by Brandon Bass that helped turned things around.
Bass, scoreless in the first half after getting two fouls in the first 4:39, was 5 for 5 from the floor and had 10 points, two blocks, a rebound (that led to Terry's 3-pointer at the end of the 9-0 run and an assist in a third quarter that saw Boston outscore Minnesota 32-21. Bass finished with 12 points as all five Boston starters reached double figures.
Paul Pierce also scored 18 points, while Jason Terry also had 17 for the Celtics.
Asked after the game if Garnett, who also had two assists, still gets fired up to face the Wolves, said, "What do you think?"
Said Rivers: "I thought Kevin was terrific. I love how aggressive he was offensively (8-for-13 from the floor). You could see he was looking to score, which is always nice for us because his instincts are going to make him pass, anyway."
Minnesota's Kevin Love, asked what Garnett did that made him so successful in the game, said "Being Kevin Garnett."
"I mean, he's intense. He's KG," said Love, who led the Timberwolves, who won in Philadelphia Tuesday night but have been hammered by injuries, with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
"Having Rondo back was big for us," Garnett said. "I thought he brought a lot of good energy. We were excited that he was back and we probably fed off that. More importantly, I thought we established something and we stayed with it."
The visitors helped the Celtics by missing 22 of their first 31 free throws and were 14-for-30 for the game (Love was 6-for-12), as Minnesota's two-game winning streak ended. Nikola Pekovic had 14 points and nine rebounds in the loss.
"We had a good first half and they came out and Rondo kind of took control of the second half and set them up and made plays for them, and that was very telling for the game," Love said, adding fatigue could have been a problem with a shorthanded roster.
The Celtics out-rebounded the Wolves, known as a rebounding team, 45-41 - only the fifth time in 18 games Boston has had a rebounding advantage.
NOTES: Andrei Kirilenko, averaging 13.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, missed his fourth straight with back spasms, as Minnesota's injury report continues to be long. Among those out is guard Ricky Rubio, working his way back from knee surgery. ... Boston's Leandro Barbosa was active after missing Tuesday's practice with an illness, but Rivers hoped not to use him. He did put Barbosa in for a play with 4.2 seconds left in the third quarter. Rookie Jared Sullinger, who had seven points and seven rebounds, was also sick, but was able to play, Rivers hoping not to lose him for Friday night's start of a home-and-home set with the Sixers in Philadelphia. ... Rivers on Garnett/Minnesota: "I can guarantee that the people in Minnesota, they miss what he does in the locker room. They miss what he does on the floor in practice every day, his work ethic. He has this ability to give himself to a team. It's rare that you see a superstar do that, and he does that." ... Center Greg Stiemsma, a rookie with the Celtics last season, made his return with the Timberwolves. He scored shortly after entering the game late in the first quarter but had just the two points and no rebounds in nine minutes. ... The Timberwolves are home for Cleveland Friday night. ... Pierce was 1-for-6 from 3-point range and is 3-for-17 from behind the arc in the last four games.