MINNEAPOLIS - So much for Kevin Love’s monster month. Love put up a double-double for the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night, but the Celtics took a 100-79 victory.
Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma combined to hold Love to 5-for-18 shooting as the Celtics (29-22) overtook Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division.
This was one of the Celtics’ strongest defensive performances of the season, and the team’s ability to consistently get stops led to an effective transition game, with Rajon Rondo producing his 12th successive double-digit assist total.
“I thought our defense was solid,’’ said Garnett (24 points, 10 rebounds). “Kevin Love is really good, he’s really solid, very, very offensive-minded. I’ve been watching him, keeping track of all his accolades, and what he’s been doing of late.
“If you know anything about me, you know I was more than ready and prepared for tonight. We already know how Kevin Love goes is how the Timberwolves go, so we knew if we slowed him down we had a good chance to open up the game - and we did.’’
Garnett last played for Minnesota in the 2006-07 season, but he was intent on turning the clock back to his best years in this game.
After a slow start, Garnett went for a 10-point final quarter, drilling consecutive jumpers after Minnesota had closed to within 88-78.
“It was just a situation where I know [Love] doesn’t really play a lot of defense,’’ Garnett said of the fourth quarter. “He does get a lot of rebounds and shoots a lot of threes. I felt like I had the advantage and I took it. It wasn’t nothing more than that.
“I know this building very well and I’m very comfortable in this building. So, I just reverted back to ’04, if you will.’’
Love (22 points, 11 rebounds) was averaging 31.3 points and 14.1 rebounds during March.
“You’re not going to guard Kevin Garnett or Kevin Love by yourself,’’ Celtic coach Doc Rivers said. “You saw us helping a lot. But the initial part of the defense was from Kevin [Garnett]. He made him catch it further out than he wanted to, which allowed us to help and get back. . . . Greg Stiemsma in the first half was huge for us.”
The Celtics had a 31-20 lead in the opening quarter and led by 16 points in the first half. Stiemsma went 3 for 3 from the field and Keyon Dooling converted two 3-pointers in a 28-second stretch of the opening quarter.
“Our defense is who we are,’’ Rivers said. “With Kevin Love and that group, they’re a terrific offensive team. What Rick [Adelman] runs, it takes a ton of discipline to play this team, and I thought our guys did a great job all night.’’
Rondo recorded his 10th assist by late in the opening half as the Celtics got into a rhythm early and coasted. Rondo had 17 assists and two turnovers, combining with Avery Bradley (17 points) in the backcourt as Ray Allen (ankle) missed his fifth successive game.
And Garnett took over in the fourth quarter.
First, Garnett found Dooling on a backdoor cut 13 seconds into the quarter, slipped through for a tomahawk dunk, and hit a jumper off an in-bounds play for an 85-71 advantage with 9:22 remaining. Paul Pierce (21 points, nine rebounds) upped the Celtics’ edge to 88-75 with 6:26 remaining.
Love’s only points of the quarter were on a 3-point play, cutting the Timberwolves’ deficit to 88-78 with 5:27 left. Garnett then hit two jumpers around an Anthony Tolliver free throw, and the Celtics’ starters’ night was soon over.
“[Minnesota] didn’t make a 13-0 run on us,’’ Rondo said. “We could have done a better job running them off the ‘3.’ But you’ve got to give up something - they’re getting paid as well. So, other than that, we got back in transition pretty good.
“I played a lot off the ball and I thought that helped my energy. I got to push the ball on the break and, when I can do that, I think I’m more efficient.”
The Celtics, who host Miami Sunday, gained first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time this season.
“That’s great, but it doesn’t matter,’’ Rivers said.
“Listen, the way I look at it, today doesn’t matter. If we continue to play well, it will matter.”