Pekovic helps hosts clobber Celts
By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Basketball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS — Ever since Minnesota traded him to Boston six years ago, Kevin Garnett has always come in and bullied his old team to devastating effect.
Garnett wasn’t in the building to save the Celtics on Monday night. Without him roaming the paint, Nikola Pekovic flattened the reeling Celtics.
Pekovic bruised and battered the overmatched Boston front line for 29 points to lead the Timberwolves to a 110-100 victory.
“We had no one that could deal with that big monster they had down there,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Andrei Kirilenko had 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Dante Cunningham scored 19 points off the bench for the Wolves, who delivered coach Rick Adelman his 998th career victory.
Avery Bradley scored 19 points for Boston, which was playing without Paul Pierce and Garnett. The Celtics, who are just 1½ games ahead of eighth-place Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference playoff race, have lost seven of their last nine games.
This one snapped an 11-game winning streak against the Wolves, who beat Boston for the first time since Garnett was traded there in 2007.
Jeff Green had a quiet night with just 10 points and seven rebounds, while Jason Terry and Terrence Williams each scored 14 points for Boston, which was a step slow on the second night of a back-to-back.
“Big emphasis, get your mind right, whatever you have to do individually to do that, that’s what we need, because you’re going to have to be so locked in,” Celtics veteran Jason Terry said after circling the locker room to try to boost his teammates’ spirits.
Without Garnett there to throw elbows and spew intensity, the thin Celtics frontcourt was powerless to stand up to Pekovic in the paint. He bulled his way to the bucket for 15 points in the first quarter. And when he wasn’t scoring, he was racking up the fouls on Chris Wilcox and Shavlik Randolph, the only two big men left on the roster. Wilcox didn’t last five minutes before picking up his second foul and Randolph had three by early in the second quarter.
“They just didn’t have anybody,” Adelman said. “With all their guys out, especially when Wilcox got in foul trouble right away, we did a nice job of finding him, and he did a great job of being active.”
After missing the game against Memphis on Saturday with a sprained left ankle, Pekovic jumped right back into the middle of things and forced the Celtics to throw double-teams at him in the post. The Wolves outscored Boston 62-38 in the paint and Pekovic was a perfect 11 for 11 from the foul line. It was the kind of commanding performance against an overmatched opponent that could earn the big fella a lot of money this summer.
Pekovic will be a restricted free agent come July 1, and the Wolves want to retain him. But centers are hard to come by in this day and age, and he could have several suitors.
“I hope it’s here,” Pekovic said. “That’s what I’m thinking about only. That’s my preference, to stay here. I like it. I enjoy it. I hope I’ll stay.”
For once, the Timberwolves had the healthiest team on the floor.
One day after twisting his left ankle against the Knicks, Pierce did not make the trip because of personal reasons and Rajon Rondo has been out since the end of January with a torn ACL in his right knee. Garnett, the face of the Timberwolves franchise for 12 years, was not in town either while he dealt with inflammation in his left ankle, much to the chagrin of a Minnesota basketball community that still adores him.
Boston’s annual visit to Target Center is still one of the most anticipated games of the year, with Minnesota fans pulling on their blue No. 21s and their green No. 5s to cheer for the biggest star the team has ever had. Without KG in the building, the crowd was rather subdued, and Rivers openly hoped that it wouldn’t be the last time Garnett had a chance to play in Minnesota.
GRIZZLIES 92, SPURS 90
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mike Conley drove for a layup with 0.6 seconds left, and the Memphis Grizzlies rallied to beat the San Antonio Spurs 92-90 Monday night for their third straight victory.
The Grizzlies matched their franchise record with their 50th win this season, and they won their 12th straight at home. They pulled out a win in a game where Conley’s bucket gave them their first lead since 18-16 late in the first quarter.
Conley scored the final five points and finished with 23. Jerryd Bayless had 17 points, Marc Gasol 16, Zach Randolph 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Tayshaun Prince had 11 points.
Tony Parker had 25 points for the Spurs. Parker tried to beat the buzzer with a jumper that was too late.
ROCKETS 111, MAGIC 103
HOUSTON — Omer Asik matched his career high with 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, and Houston beat Orlando without James Harden and Chandler Parsons.
Jeremy Lin had 19 points and 11 assists, and Francisco Garcia had 14 points, five assists and three blocks for the Rockets, who hardly missed their top two scorers until Orlando made a late run. Harden sat out for the second straight game with a sore right foot and Parsons missed the game with an illness.
Rookie Maurice Harkless scored a career-high 28 points and Beno Udrih had 17 points and 10 assists for the Magic.
BUCKS 131, BOBCATS 102
MILWAUKEE — Larry Sanders had a career-high 24 points and 13 rebounds in Milwaukee’s highest-scoring total in more than four years.
Monta Ellis had 19 points, a career-high 14 assists and six steals to help Milwaukee pull 1 1/2 games behind seventh-place Boston in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Ersan Ilyasova added 22 points for the Bucks, J.J. Redick scored 20, and Brandon Jennings 19.
Kemba Walker scored 27 points to lead the Bobcats, and Gerald Henderson had 17.
HAWKS 102, CAVS 94
ATLANTA — Devin Harris scored a season-high 25 points and Josh Smith nearly added a triple-double as Atlanta improved its chances of securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Smith had 18 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists before a sparse crowd in Philips Arena to help the Hawks (42-33) pull within one game of Brooklyn (42-31) for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Reserve Marreese Speights scored 14 of his 22 in the final quarter, but the Cavs (22-51) did not seriously threaten after pulling within 58-56 early in the third period.
Shaun Livingston, starting with Kyrie Irving not playing in the second night of a back-to-back, had 14 points and six assists in Cleveland’s ninth straight loss.
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