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Irving returns to carry Celtics past Timberwolves 117-109

The presence of Kyrie Irving this season has made the Boston Celtics more of a dynamic team with the ball.

They've become quite the force on the other end of the court, too, as the Minnesota Timberwolves again found out.

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

"That's one of the goals," Irving said. "Just glad we got it out of the way pretty early."

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.

Marcus Morris added 17 points for the Celtics, whose good vibes were tempered a bit by the hard landing Jaylen Brown took on his back after a dunk late in the third quarter. He was able to walk off on his own with 14 points, evaluated for concussion-like symptoms and taken to a hospital for precautionary testing.

"I was terrified. I mean, I know what that fall is like," said backup Marcus Smart. "I've done it in high school, the same way. For him to get up, that's a strong kid."

Strength was the name of this game for the Celtics, who overcame a career-high 30 points by Nemanja Bjelica on 11-for-16 shooting, including 6 for 9 from 3-point range. Bjelica's first 20-10 game in the NBA was ultimately wasted in the season-high third straight loss for the Timberwolves, who are still trying to find their way without injured All-Star Jimmy Butler. They trailed by as many as 18 points soon after halftime, too much to overcome some second-half surges behind Bjelica and 18 points from Taj Gibson on 8-for-10 shooting.

"We have to understand how hard and physical you have to play," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think that's the difference right now between us being a really good team and being a good team."

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.

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

"They were the aggressor," Wiggins said. "They were the harder-playing team."

FAST START, GET SMART

The Celtics posted a 35-point first period for the second straight game, as they did to fuel their 105-89 win over Chicago on Monday. Morris helped them pull away with four jumpers in the final 3½ minutes of the frame, one from behind the arc.

The Timberwolves had 11 first-half turnovers the Celtics turned into 18 points. Towns didn't score for the Timberwolves for the first 15:22, until a 17-footer from the corner fell through the net, but Morris quickly answered with another 3-pointer. Smart put together a three-point play soon after and, less than a minute later, converted a one-handed dunk in one violent motion off a rebound to give the Celtics a 51-37 advantage that triggered a timeout by an angry Thibodeau.

"He gets to his launch pad, he can get up there with the best of them," Irving said.

Morris and Smart helped the Boston bench outscore Minnesota's 42-20.

TOUGH TIME

Butler's absence has come at a most difficult time, with the Wolves in the throes of an unrelenting stretch of games. They lost at Portland and Utah on back-to-back nights last week, and they've got, gulp, Golden State coming to Target Center on Sunday. The following weekend, the night after a trip to San Antonio, they host Houston. The last game against the Rockets on Feb. 23 was when Butler hurt the meniscus in his right knee.

"We've just got to play harder and just trust each other," said Jeff Teague, who had 13 points and eight assists. "I don't think we trusted each other tonight."

ROSE ARRIVES

Derrick Rose signed with the Timberwolves earlier in the day , giving Thibodeau another experienced former player in the fold in the form of the 2011 NBA MVP on the roster. He was on the active list, but did not play.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Morris hit double-digits in points for the seventh time in the last 10 games. ... Irving has scored 20 or more points in 45 of 59 games.

Timberwolves: Wiggins had his streak of five straight 20-point games end. ... Crawford went 1 for 6 from 3-point range and is 1 for 14 over the last three games.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Host Indiana on Sunday night. They lost 97-91 to the Pacers at home last month.

Timberwolves: Host the Warriors on Sunday, the only visit to Minnesota by the defending champions on the schedule for this season.

___

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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  • A federal judge barred the Trump administration on Monday from refusing asylum to immigrants who cross the southern border illegally. U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar issued a temporary restraining order after hearing arguments in San Francisco. The request was made by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, which quickly sued after President Donald Trump issued the ban this month in response to the caravans of migrants that have started to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump issued a proclamation on Nov. 9 that said anyone who crossed the southern border would be ineligible for asylum. The regulations, which will remain in place for three months absent a court order, could potentially make it harder for thousands of people who enter the U.S. to avoid deportation. 'Individuals are entitled to asylum if they cross between ports of entry,' said Baher Azmy, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights. 'It couldn't be clearer.' In recent years, tens of thousands of immigrants each year have shown up in the Arizona desert or on the north bank of the Rio Grande in Texas, surrendered to immigration agents and requested asylum. The Department of Homeland Security estimates around 70,000 people a year claim asylum between official ports of entry. Trump has argued that the recent caravans are a threat to national security. Around 3,000 people from the first of the caravans have arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego, California. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Monday that it closed off northbound traffic for several hours at the San Ysidro crossing. It has also installed movable, wire-topped barriers, apparently to stop a potential mass rush of people. As of Monday, 107 people detained between official crossings have sought asylum since Trump's order went into effect, according to DHS, which oversees Customs and Border Protection. Officials didn't say whether those people's cases were still progressing through other avenues left to them after the proclamation. DHS has said it wants asylum seekers at the southern border to appear at an official border crossing. But many border crossings such as San Ysidro already have long wait times. People are often forced to wait in shelters or outdoor camps on the Mexican side, sometimes for weeks. ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said that some people seeking asylum cross between official ports because 'they're in real danger,' either in their countries of origin or in Mexico. 'We don't condone people entering between ports of entry, but Congress has made the decision that if they do, they still need to be allowed to apply for asylum,' he said. ___ Associated Press journalists Jill Colvin and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.
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Emergency crews were called to the scene just before 3:30 p.m. Monday on “reports of multiple victims,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Hospital employees were evacuated in buses, WBBM reported. Check back for more on this developing story.
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