MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nikola Pekovic has been tip-toeing through the early portion of the season while he tries to find his niche in a revamped Minnesota offense.
With the Timberwolves a little sluggish on the tail end of a back-to-back, Pekovic put his head down, dropped his shoulder and bulled his way through the smaller Boston Celtics.
Pekovic had 20 points and 12 rebounds and Kevin Love had 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Timberwolves to a 106-88 victory over the Celtics on Saturday night.
Kevin Martin scored 20 on 6-for-18 shooting and Dante Cunningham scored 12 off the bench to help Minnesota rebound from a tough loss in Denver the previous night.
“Between the two Kevins, we know they’re going to take the majority of the shots so I’m just trying to find myself inside and try to be open, try to be in a good position whenever I can,” said Pekovic, who made eight of his nine shots and grabbed eight offensive rebounds.
Avery Bradley scored 27 points and Vitor Faverani had nine points and 14 rebounds for the Celtics. But Jeff Green went 0 for 6 from the floor and Boston’s 22 turnovers led to 28 points for the Timberwolves.
The Celtics have lost three in a row following a four-game winning streak.
“There’s nothing they did to disrupt me in my game,” said Green, who finished with two points. “I just didn’t perform the way I wanted to, and you know it’s on me. I’ve got to figure out a way to play through me missing shots and not getting calls. I’ve just got to figure out a way to play through it.”
J.J. Barea scored 13 points and Pekovic started throwing his considerable weight around the way he did last season to earn a five-year extension this summer. The big man has had difficulty early this season finding his place in the offense with Love and Martin taking the bulk of the shots with the starting unit.
But against Boston’s smaller front court, Pekovic had his way. He scored 10 points in the third quarter to help the Wolves turn a close game into a comfortable margin, and Martin and Love took over from there.
“Every time we made a run, Pekovic stopped it,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Every single time.”
Playing their fifth game in seven nights, the Timberwolves were a little sluggish in the first half against a Celtics team that has been surprisingly competitive early this season after trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn and sending coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Stevens’ team started 0-4, but beat Miami during a four-game winning streak to even its record. As the competition has stiffened with Western Conference playoff hopefuls Portland and Minnesota in the last two nights, the Celtics’ talent gap has looked more glaring.
“With a team as good as them, you can’t trade buckets with them,” Bradley said. “And there was a moment when we were doing that and we weren’t getting stops and they just kept building their lead, and we weren’t able to make shots, and they continued to make shots. So it’s hard. It’s tough.”
The Timberwolves led by 17 points midway through the second quarter, but the Celtics closed the half on a 20-8 run to keep it close. Faverani, who started for Kelly Olynyk because Stevens liked the way he matched up against Pekovic, hit two 3s to start the comeback.
Brandon Bass scored 15 points for the Celtics, who were outscored 52-28 in the paint and shot just 39 percent.
For the Wolves (7-4), it was a game they needed to get. A tough stretch begins next week against the Clippers, Brooklyn, Houston and Indiana, so there was no time for a let-up against a weaker opponent.
“In years past, when we were very young and inexperienced, we would’ve been on that side,” Love said of the Celtics. “Now that the tides have kind of turned for us, we’re winning the games that we need to win.”
NOTES: Courtney Lee (sore right wrist) and Keith Bogans (illness) missed the game for Boston. … Timberwolves F Chase Budinger was back in the arena after returning from Florida where he was rehabbing an injured left knee. Budinger is beginning to do some light basketball activity, but isn’t expected back until mid to late December. … After scoring a career-high 26 points against the Blazers on Friday night, Celtics F Jared Sullinger had just three points in 14 minutes.