BOSTON -- Back on Nov. 16, the young Boston Celtics visited Minnesota and were thumped by the Timberwolves to fall to 4-7.
Exactly one month later, the teams met again in Boston. This time, the first-place Celtics eked out a 101-97 victory Monday night to improve to 12-14 with their eighth win in 12 games.
OK, the Timberwolves were missing guard Kevin Martin and his 20.6-points-per-game scoring average because of a knee injury. And the Wolves were playing the back end of a back-to-back, while the Celtics were off since beating the New York Knicks on Friday night.
Valid differences, but they can't overshadow the fact that the Celtics, who were expected to be in the lottery after this season, are now a tough team to beat.
"We have gotten better," rookie Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after his team. "We've gotten a little bit more organized in what we're trying to accomplish, and our guys are doing a great job of trying to carry it out."
Boston center/forward Jared Sullinger, who had three points and four rebounds in 14 minutes the first time these teams met, seems to get better every night. He played only 45 games as a rookie last season because of back surgery, making him still a rookie in terms of games played.
On Monday, he broke a 92-92 tie with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:22 left, then went 4-for-6 from the foul line to secure the win. He scored nine of his 24 points (to go with 11 rebounds and five assists) in the final 6:02.
"He did take it up a notch at the end," Stevens said. "He's a scorer. He's always been a scorer as long as I've known him, so it doesn't surprise me when scorers make plays."
Celtics rookie center/forward Kelly Olynyk said of Sullinger, "He was phenomenal. Down the stretch especially, he hit a huge (3-pointer), free throws to seal the game, and a couple of big rebounds. Not much more you can ask of a guy."
The Timberwolves, who won three of their previous four games, fell to 12-13.
"It's just a disappointing loss," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "We had every chance to win that game. Couldn't make a layup, couldn't make a shot, for our starters, it was really a struggle. We just missed too many opportunities that were right there for us."
Adelman got 45 points from his bench, including season highs of 12 points from forward Dante Cunningham and 10 from guard Alexey Schved and a season-high 11 assists (to go with 10 points) from former Northeastern University guard J.J. Barea.
Timberwolves forward Kevin Lowe scored 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, but he shot just 9-for-26 from the floor, 2-for-11 from 3-point range. In all, the Minnesota starters were 19-for-65 (29.2 percent) from the floor, 3-for-18 on 3-pointers.
Boston guard Avery Bradley, who scored the first six points of the game, had 19 points and five rebounds. Guard Jordan Crawford added 15 points for the Celtics, who are 2-1 on their five-game homestand.
Celtics forward Kris Humphries returned after missing two games due to a knee injury and played well again, finishing with eight points and seven rebounds. He also played tough defense on Love, as Boston forward Brandon Bass was in foul trouble throughout.
Olynyk, 4-for-22 from 3-point range entering the game, drained both of his long-range attempts in the first half (and of the game) as Boston built an early nine-point lead. Minnesota came right back.
The Timberwolves had 19 offensive rebounds in the game but shot just 15-for-26 from the foul line. They lost despite turning the ball over only seven times.
NOTES: The Celtics earned their seventh consecutive home win over Minnesota. ... Minnesota G Kevin Martin, bothered by a sore left knee that limited him to 19 minutes Sunday, didn't dress. "It's something I've got to get right," he said before the game. ... Celtics G Rajon Rondo, making his way back from February ACL surgery, is practicing and will decide when he's ready to play. "I think, ultimately, a person has to be ready and he has to feel good," coach Brad Stevens said before the game. "There are certain physical things that he'll have to meet to be cleared to even be considered for games, that he has not met yet. But nobody should make that call except for the individual involved, in my opinion." Stevens has indicated Rondo will make a January return. ... The Celtics continue their homestand against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, while the Timberwolves host the Portland Trail Blazers the same night.