Celtics start post-Rondo era with win over Wolves
BOSTON (AP) Celtics coach Brad Stevens was curious how his team would play in its first game without Rajon Rondo.
Boston did just fine.
Moving the ball crisply one day after the NBA assists leader was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, the Celtics beat the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves 114-98 on Friday night.
''I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of emotion we have,'' Stevens said before the game.
Afterward, he said, ''We did a lot of good things. I thought the ball was moving great.''
Of course, it came against a team that lost for the 10th time in 11 games and fell to 5-20.
Leading 95-92 midway through the fourth quarter, the Celtics scored the next eight points and 12 of 14 to take a 107-94 lead with 3:25 remaining. They stayed ahead by at least 12 the rest of the way.
''We played hard, got to the sixth-minute mark and we had a couple sequences where ... we turned it over,'' Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said.
Kelly Olynyk scored 21 points to lead six Celtics in double figures during their third straight victory, all against teams that have combined for just 17 wins this season.
Minnesota was led by Shabazz Muhammad with 26 points and Chase Budinger with a season-high 19 off the bench
''It felt good, personally,'' Budinger said, ''but it didn't feel good that we still got beat.''
Jeff Green added 18 points for Boston and Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Avery Bradley had 14 each. Sullinger led all rebounders with 10.
Without Rondo, seven Celtics had at least three assists and Bradley led them with seven.
''I was obviously down'' about Rondo's departure, Bradley said. ''He's like an older brother to me.''
Boston also outshot Minnesota 56.5 percent to 45.2 percent.
''We had our ups and downs,'' Olynyk said, ''but we were just playing together, moving the ball and everyone contributed. That's a fun way to play.''
Neither team led by more than four points in the first quarter and the game was tied at 43 with 3 minutes left in the first half.
Boston scored the next six points on a short jumper by Zeller, a 13-footer by Evan Turner, who started in place of Rondo, and two free throws by Bradley. Minnesota chipped away but still trailed 53-48 at halftime.
The Celtics led 83-77 after the third quarter as Zeller scored 10 points in the period, many on layups after quick passes.
The decisive spurt came after a layup by Thaddeus Young with 6:12 to go cut Boston's lead to 95-92.
Rookie guard Marcus Smart then hit a 3-pointer, and Green dunked on a fast break after one steal and then hit a 3-pointer following another.
Budinger stopped the eight-point run with a short turnaround shot, but consecutive layups by Smart and Sullinger made it 107-94.
The three players obtained from the Mavericks - Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder - watched the game from the Celtics locker room. They already had watched video with Stevens soon after arriving in Boston.
''When he told me he was friends with Stan Van Gundy (Nelson's former coach in Orlando), I knew I was going to watch film right away,'' Nelson said with a smile.
Minnesota traded veteran swingman Corey Brewer to Houston and center Ronny Turiaf to Philadelphia in a three-team deal.
''It's kind of tough for the few veteran guys in here,'' guard Mo Williams said. ''We have a lot of young guys, but us veterans, we kind of did a lot together.''
Timberwolves: Muhammad was the top scorer for the second time in three games. He had 21 points, second-most on the team, in a 109-95 loss at Washington on Wednesday night. ... Andrew Wiggins scored just five points and missed eight of his 10 shots.
Celtics: Boston began the game allowing the second-most points in the NBA in the fourth quarter, an average of 27.2, but outscored Minnesota 31-21. ... The Rondo trade also sent rookie forward Dwight Powell to Dallas. He and Olynyk are from Canada. ''Me and him are real good friends, so it's tough to see both of them go,'' Olynyk said.
Timberwolves: Host Indiana on Sunday night.
Celtics: At Miami on Sunday night.