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celtics 121, timberwolves 109

Patience pays off as 3-pointers finally start to fall, Celtics beat Timberwolves to end three-game skid

Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell stood between Jaylen Brown and the basket. 24celticsErin Clark/Globe Staff

Jaylen Brown lay on the floor for several minutes after taking a shot to the mouth in a second-quarter collision with Minnesota’s Bryn Forbes.

As he tasted the blood in his mouth and rose to the floor, Brown felt the shot to the face was warranted. He was playing poorly, like many of his teammates over the past few weeks.

“I got smacked in the face and I probably deserved it the way things were going,” Brown said. “The first three quarters was probably one of my ugliest stretches of my career. It was just a matter of time.”

The Celtics needed the best of Brown down the stretch. They have been laboring of late, missing countless open 3-pointers, committing turnovers at a concerning rate, and playing shoddy defense in key moments.


The low point for Brown on Friday occurred late in the third quarter, when he airballed an open 3-pointer after the Celtics put on a ball-movement clinic to create the opportunity.

Brown’s fourth-quarter response was desperately needed. He opened with a 3-point swish and then carried the Celtics past the Timberwolves with 23 of his 36 points as Boston snapped its three-game losing streak with a 121-109 win.

“It’s about time,” Brown said. “I had a bunch of open looks throughout the game. For whatever reason, they wasn’t going in. I think one didn’t even hit the rim but I stayed with it. I was able to get one in and found the momentum. Once I saw one go in, I was not taking my foot off the gas.”

The Celtics began the fourth quarter with a 28-13 run to take control. Brown was 8-for-14 shooting and 3 for 6 from the 3-point line in the quarter. Al Horford added a corner 3-pointer and Jayson Tatum, who had struggled with his jumper all evening, added the dagger in what was a significant win for a team that had lost confidence.


It was only their second win in the past 16 days and first home win since Nov. 30. December has been a miserable month. The Celtics are shooting just 31.6 percent from the 3-point line and their point differential is 0.4, compared with 42 percent and 12.0 in November.

The players said there was a sense of urgency to cure their ills, especially with the rival Bucks coming to the Garden on Christmas Day.

The Celtics trailed by as many as 9 in the third quarter but battled back to take the lead. Because the 3-pointer wasn’t falling, the Celtics attacked the rim, going 17 for 27 on 2-pointers in the second half.

And they used basic basketball and the brilliance of Brown to break out of their weeklong offensive slump. Ball movement, cutting to the basket, and attacking the rim helped Boston take an 8-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Still, the Celtics were 13 for 46 from the 3-point line, including a combined 4 for 19 from Tatum and Brown. Derrick White broke out of a slump with 18 points while Horford added 17, including five 3-pointers.

“It feels good, sometimes you get in these ruts and you’re feeling you’re breaking through and you can’t get over the hump and tonight we were able to do that,” Horford said. “It feels good to finally get a win. We just stayed with it, committed a little more on the defensive end and were finally able to open the game up in the middle of the fourth.”


Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards (30 points) looked unstoppable through three quarters but never got untracked in the fourth, scoring just 5 points. D’Angelo Russell added 21 but just 3 after halftime. The Timberwolves shot 48.4 percent but committed 17 turnovers, good for 28 Boston points.

Marcus Smart returned after missing Wednesday’s loss with a non-COVID illness and had 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists. Smart has missed 37 of his 53 3-point attempts this month and is shooting just 41.1 percent from the field. But he made his impact early with hustle plays and the offense operated more cohesively while he was on the floor.

The Celtics were without Robert Williams because of a non-COVID illness. The timing could not have been worse because the Celtics were facing one of the best rim-protecting centers in the NBA in Rudy Gobert. Mazzulla went with Horford as the starting center and Luke Kornet as the first big man off the bench.

Gobert was not a factor, finishing with 8 points and no blocked shots in 35 minutes. The Timberwolves played again without All-Star Karl Anthony Towns, who is out with a calf injury.

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who criticized his team’s lack of effort in the first half of Wednesday’s loss to Indiana, praised his club for its fortitude Friday when those 3-point shots weren’t falling.


“I think what we saw in the second half of last game and what we saw tonight, it’s our best version of our team,” he said. “And we just have to commit to that. If we’re physically and mentally tougher and work at it, the talent and everything else will take care of that because we have that. The best thing I thought we did was just make tough plays.”

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.