MINNEAPOLIS — Kyrie Irving returned from a one-game absence to help Boston fend off Minnesota, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to pace the Celtics in a 117-109 victory over the Timberwolves on Thursday night.

Al Horford added 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and tough defense on Karl-Anthony Towns for the Celtics, who stayed two games behind Toronto in the Eastern Conference race with their sixth win in seven games. They have three more losses than the Raptors.

Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica scored a career-high 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including 6 for 9 from 3-point range. His first 20-10 game in the NBA was ultimately wasted in the third straight loss for the Timberwolves, who are still trying to find their way without the injured Jimmy Butler.

They trailed by as many as 18 points soon after halftime, too much to overcome despite second-half surges led by Bjelica and Taj Gibson, who finished with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

The Wolves were within five at 88-83 in the fourth quarter, but every other time they were on the verge of cutting the margin to two possessions, Irving and the Celtics had an answer on the other end.

Marcus Morris added 17 points for the Celtics, whose victory was tempered a bit by the hard landing Jaylen Brown took on his back after a dunk late in the third quarter. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation of concussion-like symptoms.


Irving was good to go after sitting out at Chicago on Monday to rest a sore left knee that was aggravated in the previous game. The Celtics are only 12-10 in their last 22 games, so Irving’s leadership and production down the stretch and into the playoffs will be critical.

Towns finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Jamal Crawford pitched in 15 points off the bench. But Andrew Wiggins went 1 of 8 from 3-point range and 6 of 21 from the floor for a quiet 13 points.

Brown landed hard on his back following a dunk late in the third quarter.

He lost his grip on the rim as he finished the play, falling awkwardly to the court with 1:31 remaining in the quarter. He stayed down for several minutes, and a stretcher was rushed out. But Brown was eventually able to walk slowly to the locker room on his own, and the crowd at Target Center gave him a standing ovation.

The Celtics ruled Brown out for the rest of the game and announced he was being evaluated for concussion-like symptoms.

Brown had 14 points and five rebounds in 28 minutes. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers tweeted he was praying for Brown.


THUNDER 115, SUNS 87: Russell Westbrook had 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists to help Oklahoma City win at home.

Paul George added 21 points, Corey Brewer had 17, Steven Adams 16 and Carmelo Anthony 11. Brewer, who made his Thunder debut two games ago, replaced Josh Huestis in the starting lineup and shot 6 of 11.

NETS 125, HORNETS 111: Allen Crabbe made his first six 3-point attempts and finished with 29 points and eight rebounds, helping Brooklyn win at Charlotte, North Carolina, to snap a four-game losing streak.

Caris Levert scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, and reserve Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets, who entered the game tied for the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

HEAT 108, 76ERS 99: Hassan Whiteside scored 26 points, Dwyane Wade added 16 and Miami won at home to move a step closer to the playoffs.

Josh Richardson scored 13 points, Tyler Johnson had 12 and Kelly Olynyk added 10 to help the Heat stay at No. 7 in the Eastern Conference and move within a game of No. 6 Philadelphia.


TIMBERWOLVES: Derrick Rose signed for the remainder of the season.

The move reunites Rose and Coach Tom Thibodeau, who were together in Chicago.

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