BOSTON (AP) — Celtics coach Ime Udoka has his priorities set for the final push to the playoffs, and trying to figure out which Boston’s best matchup is not among them.
“Teams manipulate where they want to play. We’re not worried about that,” the rookie head coach said Sunday after the Celtics outscored the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-112 and climbed atop the Eastern Conference.
“There’s too much closeness to try to manipulate things and pick an opponent,” Udoka said. “Home-court advantage is the main thing, and letting the chops fall where they’re going to fall.”
Jayson Tatum scored 34 and Jaylen Brown had 31 points and 10 rebounds to lead Boston to its sixth straight victory. The Celtics won for the 24th time in their last 28 games and, combined with the 76ers’ loss to Phoenix, took the number one spot in the East.
Boston and Miami have the same record of 47-28. The Celtics have beaten the Heat twice this season, and the teams meet again on Wednesday.
“It’s been a journey,” Tatum said. “We had to find our identity. He lost some teammates; I have some new guys. We have had to fight, but it has been fun. We had some more difficult moments, but we benefited from it and it made us better.”
This win came at the expense of a team that until recently had been one of the best in the NBA: Minnesota is 12-5 since the All-Star break, winning 10 of 11 before back-to-back losses to Phoenix and Dallas. this week.
Anthony Edwards scored 24 and Karl-Anthony Towns added 19 as the Timberwolves opened a four-game road trip with a loss, their third in four games.
The Celtics scored 13 of the first 15 points in the second quarter to open a double-digit lead that they never relinquished. It was 72-49 at halftime.
At the time, the only question was whether Tatum would move on to lead the NBA in scoring. He did, finishing the day with 1,923 points to pass Atlanta’s Trae Young (1,915) for the top spot.
The Celtics star already has one of the 15 best scoring seasons in Celtics history and has seven games left to become the seventh player in franchise history to top 2,000 points in a season. He would join John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin McHale, Sam Jones.
The Celtics were without forward Al Horford, who missed the game for undisclosed personal reasons and is unlikely to make it Monday night in Toronto. Minnesota missed Malik Beasley, who left Friday night’s game with a sprained ankle.
Brown and Tatum tested their sore knees before the game and were cleared to play. Robert Williams III, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, limped off the court late in the third quarter with the Celtics up 26 and did not return.
The team said he had a sprained left knee. Udoka said Williams was in “quite a bit of pain” but the team would know more after seeing a scan on Monday.
Udoka said some players could sit out against Toronto in the second straight game Monday night, even with the top four seeds in the East a half-game apart. (Boston and Miami were 47-28, with Milwaukee and Philadelphia 46-28.)
“As far as rest goes, that’s the main thing,” Udoka said. “We’ve got some guys that have some scratches now and you have to be smart about it.”
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Boston Celtics move into first place in the East with win over Timberwolves originally appeared on NBCSports.com