Nemanja Bjelica did his part for the Timberwolves but the rest of the starters could not keep up with Boston
In Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s world, you always take one game at a time.
So somebody take Thursday’s 117-109 home loss to Boston.
In the midst of a seven-game stretch that could go far toward determining their playoff fate, the Wolves on Thursday lost a third consecutive game for the first time all season.
After losing road games at Portland last Thursday and at Utah on Friday, the Wolves had a rare five-day break between before they resumed a schedule that now presents Golden State on Sunday, games at Washington and San Antonio next week and then home games against Houston and the L.A. Clippers after that.
The Celtics led by as many as 18 points on the same day the Wolves signed free-agent guard Derrick Rose and never allowed the Wolves to get closer than five points in the fourth quarter.
A starter at small forward now that Jimmy Butler is out injured, Nemanja Bjelica scored a career-high 30 points that included six made three-point shots before he fouled out late in the game.
Even with Bjelica’s 12 rebounds, it wasn’t enough.
Until Thursday, only the Wolves, Toronto and Golden State hadn’t lost more than two games consecutively.
Even Boston – now 46-20 and still second in the East – has lost four consecutive games and three consecutive games once each so far this season.
The Wolves signed Rose on Thursday morning, filling one of two roster spots they had open after keeping one free all season and after waiving Shabazz Muhammad at his request last week.
He was in uniform for the game – jersey No. 25 because Tyus Jones wears No. 1 – and available to play, but didn’t while Thibodeau stuck with starter Jeff Teague and backup point guard Tyus Jones used them in their regular roles.
“I don’t think that necessarily changes how they want to play on either end of the floor,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before the game. “I think he’s an outstanding player. We played them the first game of the season in Cleveland. He was really good in that game and obviously, he’ll be comfortable in Thibs’ system.”
Bjelica made three of his six three-pointers in the first half, then added a fourth during a 13-6 Wolves’ run that started the third quarter and drew them back into the game.
The Celtics led by as many as seven points in the first quarter, by 16 points in the second quarter and led 60-46 at halftime before Bjelica and Towns worked the Wolves back within single digits.
Towns’ slam dunk after teammate Andrew Wiggins stumbled and lost the ball on a spin toward the basket brought the Wolves within 66-59 with little more than four minutes gone in the third quarter.
The Celtics scored the next four points to extend their lead back to 11 points before Bjelica answered with another score, this one a two-point shot.
When Celtics forward Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris made consecutive threes, the Celtics led 76-63 with about four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Wolves didn’t close again until a 9-2 run that opened fourth quarter pulled them with 88-83 with fewer than 10 minutes left in the game.
But the Celtics pushed back, using veteran Greg Monroe’s dunk and Terry Rozier’s pure three-pointer to regain a 10-point lead at 93-83 with 8:16 remaining.
An audience announced at an 18,978 hushed late in the third quarter when Brown fell awkwardly after he was fouled while throwing down a dunk and stayed there while both teams gathered and looked on as medical personnel attended to him.
Brown somersaulted, tumbling heels over head and landed upside down with a sickening sound and remained there until he eventually was guided off the floor and to the Celtics’ locker room.
Target Center fans stood and cheered as he went and he held his left arm up in appreciation as he disappeared into a tunnel at one of the court near the Boston bench.