BOSTON – The Timberwolves on Monday night in Boston peered over that elusive .500 barrier and fell back with both a resounding thud and a 101-97 loss to the Celtics that had more than enough blame for everybody to go around.
Finishing their eighth set of 20 back-to-back games already this season, they missed nearly every shot conceivable — free throws (11 of ’em), three-pointers (21 of ’em), and all shapes and sizes in between (61 of ’em). And this on a night when their underperforming bench, of all the crazy things, tried to save them but just couldn’t.
Exactly a month earlier, the Wolves thumped Boston by 18 points at Target Center with a victory that pushed them to a 7-4 start.
On Monday, the reconfigured Celtics won for the fourth time in six games, while the Wolves lost for the seventh time in their past 11 games on a night when they couldn’t help but feel they let one slip away.
“This one hurt,” said Wolves starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who played little or not at all in the second and fourth quarters after Rick Adelman rode a mostly second unit into halftime and game’s end. “Because — don’t take me wrong, they’re a good team — but we didn’t play good. When you don’t do your best, that hurts a lot. It’s sad because we couldn’t win and today was a good way to go over .500.”
Playing their third game in four nights, the Wolves’ starters made 19 of 65 field-goal attempts — that’s 29.2 percent, if you’re keeping score at home — without injured guard Kevin Martin in the lineup.
Kevin Love got his 27 points, but needed 26 shots to get there. Together with Rubio, the two Wolves stars combined to make just 11 of 38 shots.
“We had every chance to win that game,” Adelman said. “We couldn’t make a layup. We couldn’t make a shot.”
And still they led 92-90 after Love made just his second three-pointer in 11 tries with 3:48 left.
From there, the Celtics went on a 10-2 run fueled by big man Jared Sullinger’s three-pointer that put his team ahead to stay with 2:22 remaining.
Just before Monday’s game, Boston coach Brad Stevens suggested that Sullinger model his game after Love, starting with workouts this summer.
Sullinger proved a quicker study than that, making like Love with that clutch three-pointer — his only one on a 24-point, 11-rebound night — and then going inside to get to the line for five made throws in the final 18 seconds that preserved the victory.
“He’s a good guy to model your game after,” Celtics rookie teammate Kelly Olynyk said of the Sullinger-Love juxtaposition.
Well, not so much Monday night, when the Wolves fell behind 16-7 to start the game and then fell behind again in the third quarter with the starters back on the floor.
“We shot the ball terrible the whole game, myself included,” said Love, who finished 9-for-26. “It seemed like every shot hit the front rim and came out.”
Love was the only starter Adelman relied upon into halftime and game’s end. Instead, Adelman conjured up a second unit that included little-used rookie Gorgui Dieng, Dante Cunningham, Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea, until Cunningham left the game late because of a painfully injured ankle.
“The bench gave us a chance to win tonight. You can’t ask for more than that,” said Corey Brewer, who started at Martin’s guard spot and shot 1-for-8. “We let this one get away. I take some responsibility for that. I was flat tonight. I’m usually the guy who brings some energy to our team and I feel like I let us down. I have to get better. I’ve been shooting horrific lately and, personally, I feel like I have to make a shot to help this team.
“When you’ve got a guy like Kevin Love playing the way he is, us guys around him have to step up. We’ve got to start picking it up.”