Trailing by 25 points early and leading by a basket late, the Timberwolves didn't disappoint a big Sunday night crowd with their 85-82 loss to Boston at Target Center.

Their remarkably uneven performance gave everybody something to cheer about.

The crowd got loud when the home team came back, grasping a lead for the first time all night when Anthony Tolliver blocked a Kevin Garnett shot and then made a three-pointer at the other end with five minutes left.

It got louder still when Celtics veteran Paul Pierce took command by scoring five consecutive points for a 77-73 lead with three minutes left, and the Wolves never recovered.

"There was a lot of green in the crowd and they were cheering a lot," Tolliver said. "At the beginning of the game, I was like, 'Well, if they're going to cheer for them, let's shut the crowd up.' That's our goal. Whenever you're on the road, you want to shut the crowd up, right?"

It seemed like more than half of the announced 19,178 fans wore Celtic green and roared when the visitors led 15-5, 30-10 and 38-13 before the game was 15 minutes old.

One week after they were embarrassed by 33 points at home by lousy Sacramento, the Wolves were headed that way again until they rescued themselves by holding the Celtics to 53 points in the final three quarters after they allowed 32 in the first quarter.

The Wolves made two of their first 12 shots and only five of 21 in that first quarter, when Anthony Randolph -- making his third consecutive start for injured Kevin Love -- lasted only 2 1/2 minutes before he sat down with two quick fouls.

On a night when they played without Love and Nikola Pekovic, and the Celtics were without star guard Rajon Rondo, the Wolves got themselves back in the game because of defense and Michael Beasley's 28-point, 10-rebound, 45-minute performance.

"I feel like we showed a lot of character," Beasley said. "We could have just let them beat us by 60 points."

That looked possible until Tolliver injected life into his team with a 16-point, 15-rebound night and the Wolves found ways to slow Boston.

"Obviously, I wasn't too pleased with the start," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "After that, I thought our guys played great. They fought, they scratched, they clawed and they gave themselves a chance to win the game."

Ultimately, the Celtics prevailed because Pierce provided a veteran's presence when a team that had lost six of its past 10 games and blew Friday's home game against Charlotte needed it most.

When Tolliver's three-pointer gave the Wolves a lead (73-72) for only the second time all night, Pierce simply answered with a driving layup he turned into a foul and three-point play. He followed that with a 20-foot jumper for a four-point lead.

"It was one of those things we could have easily rolled over and nobody could have blamed us," Tolliver said. "They're a great team with a lot of veterans, a lot of great, great players."

Either way, the crowd had something to cheer about, even Kevin Garnett, who called Target Center home for 13 seasons. After Sunday's game, he said, "It's always a good feeling to come back and see the people show love."

"It was really weird going down one end cheering, then going down the other end cheering," Tolliver said. "It was like it was a home game for everybody."


• Love missed his third consecutive game because of a groin injury. Pekovic did not play because of a strained right hip suffered in Friday's loss at Oklahoma City.

• Rondo missed Sunday's game after jamming his finger in Saturday's practice. "Our practices are becoming freaking deadly," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I was joking the other day that we shouldn't practice. I may be getting serious about that because the last three practices we've had someone injured. It's amazing."