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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

Karl-Anthony Towns calls Al Horford a mentor

Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, shown defending Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, is having a strong follow-up season to his Rookie of the Year campaign.
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, shown defending Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, is having a strong follow-up season to his Rookie of the Year campaign.Jim Mone/Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the NBA’s emerging superstars and he has credited Celtics big man Al Horford with sparking his success.

“It’s always great when I go up against Al,” said the reigning Rookie of the Year prior to Monday night’s matchup with the Celtics at the Target Center. “Me and him have always been tremendously close. Our families are tremendously close.”

As a Kentucky recruit, Towns, who was playing for the younger division of the Dominican Republic national team, was chosen to watch Horford’s Dominican senior national team play a team of NBA players from Kentucky, featuring Rajon Rondo and John Wall. The Dominicans won both exhibition games, and Horford became a mentor to Towns.

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“I was just trying to be a sponge,” Towns said. “Doing that every single day. Even today, I don’t act like I know everything. I think Al is really the first person who got me to understand how important the midrange shot was. I think that’s treated me tremendously well, especially in my first two years in the league.

“Big thanks to Al to really raising my eyes to how special and unique it is to have the midrange shot.”

Towns saw lots of Horford in the Celtics’ 99-93 win. Towns led Minnesota with 27 points and 18 rebounds, boosting his season averages to 22.2 and 9.1. Horford was key in Boston’s comeback and finished with 20 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, and 3 blocks.

Smart lauded

Perhaps overshadowed in the Celtics’ dramatic 94-92 win over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night was Marcus Smart charging the glass following Jae Crowder’s missed 3-pointer and keeping the ball alive for Horford to score the winning putback.

Smart gets flak for flopping at times and his offensive struggles, but Horford referred to Smart’s keeping the ball alive as a “championship play.”

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“I just made a decision and in times like that, everybody’s crashing [the boards] and nobody’s really getting back on defense, so nobody’s looking to block out,” Smart said. “So I figured, everybody got their heads turned, why not go to the boards. [The contact] hurt a little bit, but it’s part of the game, you get hurt. It wasn’t nothing crucial. It was worth it.

“The whole team had plays like that, everybody had their little stint where they made good plays to help win that game. That play was just the last play of the game. We need those types of plays every game.”

Smart, who left Friday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors with a left ankle contusion, said he felt no aftereffects Saturday. Smart has had his share of ankle issues throughout his first two-plus seasons.

“That’s a good sign, especially because I’ve hurt my ankles in the past,” Smart said of his pain-free game Saturday. “And it’s the same ankle [I have sprained]. So for me not to feel anything is a good sign.”

Smart had 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in 31 minutes Monday.

Dunn has moved on

The Celtics could have drafted Kris Dunn with the third pick in the draft in June but elected for Jaylen Brown. The Timberwolves took the Providence guard fifth overall.

“That would have been the biggest advantage [playing for the Celtics], close to home,” said Dunn, who is from New London, Conn. “Family and friends, always around them. But that’s a good and a bad thing at the same time.

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“The good is you’re around them, the bad is you’re around them too much. It can get overwhelming.

“I don’t have any personal feelings against [the Celtics]. I don’t know most of the guys over there. I’ll just treat it like another game.”

Dunn said he has kept in close contact with former Providence teammate Ben Bentil, a Celtics’ second-round draft pick who was waived. Bentil played for the Indiana Pacers’ D-League affiliate but then took a deal to play in China.

He is expected to return to the NBADL later this season.

“That’s my brother,” Dunn said. “He played really well recently. That’s expected from him. The disappointing thing is that I know that guy very well and I know what he could bring for [NBA] teams. I wish he came to the Timberwolves with me.

“He’s a great guy. I wish he went first round. Everybody has different roads and I know he’s going to get through it.”

Still special to him

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is a former Celtics assistant. He was on Doc Rivers’s staff during the 2007-08 championship season and Boston’s return to the Finals two years later. He then coached the Chicago Bulls for five seasons.

“I don’t think there’s any other organization in the NBA like the Celtics,” Thibodeau said.

“From top to bottom, great ownership, great tradition, great history. Brad [Stevens] is doing a great job there. When you walk around [TD Garden] and you look at all the banners, the history is amazing and [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] is carrying that on. It’s a special place.”

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Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.