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17-0 fourth-quarter run propels Celtics past Wolves 99-93

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Al Horford’s interior defense locks down the Timberwolves late while heavy sets of passing opened up the offense Boston needed to come back from down big and steal a win on the road.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Heinsohn called Karl-Anthony Towns (11-19, 27 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks) “a load” during halftime. Monday night in Minnesota he was the load that would not get off the Celtics’ backs, until the fourth quarter when another player tilted the scale.

Towns’s now-renowned footwork on the dribble, quick pullback jump-shot, and massive frame tore a hole through Boston’s already-embattled early season defense. Along with a block and eight rebounds, he hit seven of his first eleven shots.

Minnesota carried a double-digit lead into halftime and maintained it through the third quarter, but once the fourth came Al Horford (9-20, 20 pts, 6 reb, 5 assists, 3 blk) emerged as the best big on the floor. Boston’s defense forced 13 straight misses, outscoring Minnesota 17-0 in the first half of the fourth quarter. They trailed by as much as 15 and finished with eight straight Isaiah Thomas points (9-20, 29 pts) to end the game up six in a 99-93 win, Boston’s eighth.

The win represented the largest fourth-quarter comeback in 12 years for the Celtics.

The Celts relinquished a 12-4 run, turning over the ball twice in the the final 2:04 of the second quarter, which put them down 10 going into the third. The physical length of the Wolves disrupted Boston’s effort in the rebounding game and prevented them from reaching the paint, which allowed bigs like Gorgui Dieng (10-16, 20 pts, 10 reb) were able to control the paint offensively.

As for the Celtics, shots struggled to fall outside of the shooting stroke of Thomas. Down 81-66 with time running out in the third, they received a delay of game warning (another wakeup call outside the scoreboard), and their -17 rebounding deficit showed how short their effort was falling. Horford hit a mid-range jumper to close the quarter with the Celtics trailing by 13, but Minnesota would not score again for over six minutes.

To open the final frame, the Celtics emphasized moving the ball aggressively, pushing for the one extra pass to find the perfect shot. It began with Terry Rozier (5-8, 12 pts, 4 reb) dribbling at the free-throw line, finding an open Jaylen Brown (0 pts, 2 reb) who took a few extra dribbles rather than shooting before he found an even more open Jonas Jerebko (2-3, 5 pts, 3 reb) in the corner for a three pointer. At that point the Celts were within 10.

Next possession, in a similar position, Horford found Rozier on an extra pass for a three-pointer of his own. The center then rushed back to the defensive end, set himself defensively on Dieng trying to muscle in Minnesota’s first basket of the quarter, only to be stuffed by Horford. The miss sent the Wolves to 0-for-11 shooting through 4:17. Horford would miss a three on the other end, grabbed his own rebound, and drove through the defense for an aggressive hanging dunk.

The score stood at 81-78, then it was Rozier’s chance to shine. His pivotal rebound on the next possession led to an extra set of passes that found him for another three to tie the game at 81. He grabbed another offensive board on the next possession, then stole a pass from Dieng and brought it himself across the court for a go-ahead dunk.

It took Minnesota 6:42 and 14 attempts to bury their first shot of the fourth quarter, a Towns hook through Jerebko’s foul. Smart responded with a spot-up three pointer and Boston went ahead 88-84, never to trail again after a 20-3 run.

The Wolves attempted to come back with a barrage of threes and drives to the basket, but Horford’s presence remained strong as they shot 3-10 over the final 4:34. In the meantime, Thomas hit eight straight free throws over the final minute to close the door on the team’s fifth win over their last seven games.

Boston travels to Brooklyn to wrap up a three-game road trip before Thanksgiving on Wednesday.