MINNEAPOLIS — Jaylen Nowell scored 29 points and Nathan Knight added 20 points and 11 rebounds, leading the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves to a 108-103 win over the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
Jaden McDaniels scored 17 points and Malik Beasley added 15 points and eight rebounds for the Wolves, who were playing without all five of their regular starters due to COVID-19 protocols.
Veteran center Greg Monroe, signed to a 10-day contract earlier in the day, had 11 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes for the Wolves, who snapped a two-game losing streak.
Jaylen Brown led Boston with 26 points. Payton Pritchard scored 22 points and Al Horford added 16 points and nine rebounds.
COVID-19 played a huge role in the game, as both teams’ lineups were decimated. The Timberwolves played without their top three scorers — center Karl-Anthony Towns and guards Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. But the success of his reserves didn’t surprise Timberwolves coach Chris Finch.
“Sometimes there’s not a lot of separation between a guy who’s in your rotation and a guy who’s out,” Fich said. “And in some situations, some guys who are out of the rotation are actually better, more experienced players than the guys who are in.”
Meanwhile, Celtics leading scorer Jayson Tatum missed his first game this year after he was added to the league’s health and safety protocols list on Monday. But Celtics coach Ime Udoka wasn’t using Tatum’s absence as an excuse.
“One of the poorest losses of the year,” Udoka said. “A team as depleted as we are just out-hustled us. Very undisciplined effort overall.”
Nowell and Knight took advantage of their opportunities to post career highs in scoring.
A 13-0 run to end the second quarter gave Boston a 56-45 halftime lead. But the Timberwolves chipped away, with Knight scoring their first eight points of the third quarter. A three-point play by McDaniels cut Boston’s lead to five at the end of the period.
Nowell’s fifth 3-pointer of the game tied the score 79-all early in the fourth quarter. Then, after the Celtics missed a pair of free throws, Nowell brought the fans to their feet with a ferocious one-handed dunk in traffic.
“As I was going to the rim, I was going to lay it up for real,” Nowell said. “But with the time and the score, I knew that I had to do something crazy and get everybody rocking. Because once that crowd got behind us, I knew that we were going to have a way better chance of pulling this one out.”
Knight and Beasley followed with consecutive 3-pointers to give the Wolves an 87-81 lead, forcing a Celtics timeout with 8:32 to go.
After a 3-pointer by Horford, Nowell hit another 3 and Monroe added a tip-in to put Minnesota up by nine. The Wolves held Boston at a distance the rest of the way.
The Timberwolves got consecutive baskets from Beasley and Nowell late in the second quarter to take a 45-43 lead. However, two Pritchard 3-pointers bookended three straight jumpers by Brown as the Celtics rattled off the final 13 points of the quarter.
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Monroe returned to an NBA roster for the first time since 2019. The No. 1 pick of the Pistons in the 2010 draft played with six NBA teams over the next 10 seasons. After stints in Germany and Russia, he signed with the G League’s Capital City Go-Go, where he played 12 games before the Timberwolves came calling.
His odyssey on Monday typified the life of a basketball journeyman.
“I woke up at about 4 a.m. First flight was canceled,” Monroe said. “I left DC about 7 a.m. roughly, had to connect in Chicago, got here around 11, had COVID testing, got a chance to rest, came to the gym around 4.”
After meeting with Finch and shaking hands with his new teammates, Monroe wasn’t sure what his role would be against the Celtics, but the 31-year-old said he was prepared for anything.
“(Finch) did a good job — even though I didn’t have any time with him, he put me in positions where I was comfortable,” Monroe said. “I was just doing things I’ve been doing all season with the Go-Go, so that kind of made it easy for me.”
He was comfortable enough that as the Wolves were closing out the game, they began running their offense through Monroe in the high post.
“He’s so experienced. He gives us a different look, some legit size and beef,” Finch said. “His rebounding was great. Again, you can just throw it to him and things kind of calm down.”
The whole experience has left Monroe little time to process what he’s been through.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Monroe said. “I was just so focused on being ready when my number was called, I haven’t gotten a chance to digest it honestly, but in this league, you don’t have much time to digest anything. We’ve got another game tomorrow, and the Knicks are playing well. Right now, that’s what I’m focusing on.”
Well, that and learning his teammates’ names.
“I’m not gonna lie: Jaylen Nowell played awesome tonight. I didn’t know who he was,” Monroe admitted. “I think he played awesome, but that was my first time seeing him. The game is the same, the people change. Tonight, it’s a young guy taking advantage of an opportunity.”
Celtics: G Marcus Smart also missed the game due to a cut on his hand. … Besides Tatum, Boston’s COVID-19 restricted list also included C Bruno Fernando, C Enes Freedom, F Justin Jackson, G C.J. Miles, F Aaron Nesmith, G Josh Richardson and G Dennis Schroder.
Timberwolves: Russell was the Wolves’ latest addition to the health and safety protocol list, where he joined starting forwards Patrick Beverly and Jarred Vanderbilt, as well as reserve F Taurean Prince and C Naz Reid. … G Josh Okogie returned after missing three games on the restricted list.
Celtics: Host the Clippers on Wednesday.
Timberwolves: Host the Knicks on Tuesday.
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