The Boston Celtics get a golden opportunity to push their record back above .500 when they host the NBA-worst Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
The Celtics haven't had a winning record since March 16 as they've been unable to string together a winning streak of more than two games during that time. Boston enters Friday having won three of four, including a 101-99 victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
"Those are the types of wins that really, really makes a team, really helps a team get on track," Marcus Smart said of grinding out the win.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, have lost eight of 11, including their last five contests on the road. Minnesota fell 141-137 at the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday in a game in which it trailed by 21 at halftime.
"We came out, and next thing you know we were down 20," said Anthony Edwards, who finished with 27 points. "We've just got to do a better job playing in the beginning of the game. ... We've got to be better."
The Celtics have won seven in a row against the Timberwolves dating back to 2016. Boston hasn't lost to Minnesota at home since 2005, a stretch of 13 straight victories.
Jaylen Brown (32 points, 10 rebounds) and Jayson Tatum (25, 10) led the Celtics to victory Wednesday night, but Boston considered the return of big man Tristan Thompson from a lengthy bout with COVID-19 to be the difference maker. Thompson finished with seven points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes in his first game since March 14.
"We knew today was going to be a fight. We knew they were physical, and we didn't want to lose the fight," said Brown. "We had to win the fight tonight, and Tristan led us in that department."
Boston trailed by seven early in the fourth quarter before grabbing the lead on a Smart 3-pointer with 4:32 remaining. New York tied the game at 93 with 54.6 seconds left, but Smart again hit from deep as the Celtics eked out the win.
Point guard Kemba Walker (rest) sat out the contest as the second end of a back-to-back.
Even though the Timberwolves trailed by 22 early in their game, they had multiple chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Despite beginning the period down by 15, D'Angelo Russell put Minnesota within three, 128-125, on a 3-pointer with 3:20 to go. The Timberwolves got as close as two in the final 10 seconds before falling short.
"If we played the first 24 like we played the last 24, then this is a different conversation," said Timberwolves coach Chris Finch. "We have to learn how to handle having one good game and then starting the (next) one with the right mindset."
Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 32 points and 12 rebounds in the effort. Had the Timberwolves pulled off the comeback, they would have come away with back-to-back wins for the first time since the first two games of the season.
Minnesota will host Boston on May 15 in its next-to-last game of the regular season.
--Field Level Media