The Boston Celtics brushed off their All-Star break rust with the type of efficient offensive play that made them the Eastern Conference’s best team over the previous three weeks.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ scoring struggles have returned following a brief and uncharacteristic surge.
The Celtics look to continue solidifying their spot toward the top of the East standings when they close a three-game road trip against the Timberwolves on Monday night.
Boston (33-24) experienced two opposite performances out of the break, shooting 37 percent in Friday’s 111-93 loss at Utah and 48.5 in Sunday’s 121-101 win at Denver.
They followed their worst shooting percentage since Jan. 7 with one that is more telling of their play since late last month, including an East-leading 10-2 record from Jan. 22-Feb. 10. Boston averaged 113.1 points during that stretch, fewer than only Golden State (119.8) and Oklahoma City (116.2).
The catalyst has been All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, both scoring the basketball and distributing it. Thomas has averaged 21.2 points and 6.7 assists in Boston’s 14-game surge, including marks of 27.7 and 9.7 the last three games.
Thomas finished one off a career high with 12 assists to go with 22 points against the Nuggets, helping Boston return to its well-rounded attack. Only four players finished in double figures against the Jazz, leading to one of the Celtics’ two games scoring fewer than 100 points since Jan. 12, but six scored at least 10 against Denver — with another scoring nine.
Boston is 13-4 when at least six players score in double figures.
"We played our butts off," said Jared Sullinger, who finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. "Five guys connected. We got the rust off and are looking to move forward."
Boston held the East’s No. 8 seed on Jan. 20 but has moved all the way up to the third slot with an eye on catching Toronto in the Atlantic Division.
Things were looking up for Minnesota (17-39) when it entered the break with wins in three of four games, but two straight losses have stopped any momentum.
They logged a 42.1 shooting percentage on 3-pointers in the consecutive defeats but still finished at that number overall — looking more like the team that averaged only 96.4 points in 24 games from Dec. 18-Jan. 31 before a surge of 110.8 in five games before the break.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each scored 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 assists in Saturday’s 103-95 loss to New York, but only five Minnesota players scored more than three points.
Towns has averaged 21.8 points and 12.4 rebounds the last 14 games, but he’s 14 of 38 from the field the last two and his 10-game streak of double-digit rebounding efforts ended Saturday as he finished with eight.
"It’s not even missing a shot, it’s more that shots were going in and out," Towns said. "That’s the most upsetting part. You can fix misses. You can’t fix in-and-out."
Towns finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds and Wiggins scored 26 in the first matchup in this series, but six Boston players scored in double figures in the Celtics’ 113-99 home win on Dec. 21.
The teams have split the last six games in this series, but the Timberwolves have won all three at home — where they are 9-20 this season.