The Boston Celtics shook off a scary fall for swingman Jaylen Brown to punch their ticket to the NBA playoffs with a 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday.
Kyrie Irving, back from a one-game absence with a sore knee, scored 23 points with eight assists and seven rebounds and Al Horford added 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists as the Celtics won for the sixth time in seven games.
They remained two games behind Eastern Conference leaders Toronto – who booked their playoff berth on Wednesday.
The Celtics led by as many as 18 points early in the third quarter. But they got a jolt with 1:31 left in the period when Brown drove for a dunk and upon letting go of the rim fell hard on his shoulders, neck and head.
He lay on the court for several minutes as medical staff attended to him and the Timberwolves’ Target Center arena went quiet.
When he finally rose from the floor – passing on the stretcher that had been rolled out – fans stood and cheered.
“I was right there,” Horford said of Brown’s fall. “It was tough to see. I was just happy he was able to get up and walk off because that was one of the worst falls I’ve seen.”
Teammate Marcus Smart said he was “terrified” when he saw Brown fall.
But Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game that Brown “felt pretty good” as he left the arena for a CT scan in hospital. Brown was able to travel with the team back to Boston.
Leading 86-74 after three quarters, the Celtics managed to repel the Timberwolves’ rally bid.
Minnesota pulled within five points at 88-83 with 9:12 left in the fourth, but would get no closer.
Nemanja Bjelica led the Timberwolves with a career-high 30 points, including six of nine from the 3-point range. He added 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough for a Timberwolves team without injured All-Star Jimmy Butler.
For Boston it marks the earliest in a season that they’ve clinched a playoff berth since 2011.
Irving said they wouldn’t let up as they “prepare for something bigger than ourselves”.
“We’ve just got to take advantage of the moments, continue to get better every game and utilize these games to really play our best,” he said.
Warriors rally past Spurs
In Oakland, Kevin Durant scored 37 points and Draymond Green notched a triple-double of 11 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists as the Golden State Warriors shook off the early exit of Stephen Curry with an ankle injury to beat the San Antonio Spurs 110-107.
Curry turned his right ankle after a drive to the basket early in the first quarter and didn’t return.
The Warriors said only that Curry “tweaked” the ankle, the same one he sprained on December 4, leading to a total of 13 missed games.
With Curry sidelined, the Spurs led 50-46 at half-time and 87-78 at the end of the third quarter.
Durant, who also blocked four shots, scored 12 points in the final 4:24. He drained a third straight jump shot to knot the score at 105-105 with 2:02 remaining and Green’s jump shot put the Warriors ahead on the next possession.
A brace of free throws from Klay Thompson stretched the Warriors lead to 109-105 lead with 15.9 seconds left and after Durant made a last free throw Bryn Forbes’ 3-point attempt bounced off the rim as time expired.
“I got to my spots out there, knocked down some jump shots,” Durant said. “Draymond set some great screens. My teammates did it all for me tonight.”
Whiteside paces Heat
The Miami Heat, battling for playoff position in the East, earned a valuable 108-99 victory over Philadelphia, moving within one game of the 76ers for sixth place in the East.
Hassan Whiteside led the Heat with 26 points and eight rebounds. Dwyane Wade, who delivered the game-winner in the Heat’s 102-101 victory over the Sixers on February 27, added 16.
“Our guys knew what this game meant,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.