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Celtics Clinch NBA Playoff Berth with Win over Timberwolves

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2018

Boston Celtics's Al Horford, left, of Dominican Republic , drives around Minnesota Timberwolves' Taj Gibson as Kyrie Irving, right, sets a pick in the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 8, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Jim Mone/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics have bigger aspirations than just making the playoffs this season, but they clinched their spot in the field Thursday with a 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Boston became the second team in the league to clinch a playoff berth this season after the Toronto Raptors did so with a win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.

The Celtics are hitting their stride with only 16 games remaining in the regular season. They are 6-1 in their last seven and just two games behind the Raptors in the race for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.

Boston had its way offensively against the Timberwolves, who are still without three-time All-Defensive selection Jimmy Butler (knee injury). Six Celtics scored in double figures, including Kyrie Irving, who produced 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Irving has been a driving force for the Celtics this season after they acquired him via trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers this past offseason for a package that included Isaiah Thomas. Considering Irving has been to the last three NBA Finals, he figures to provide a guiding hand come playoff time.

Elsewhere, All-Star Al Horford mixed in his usual pick-and-pops and veteran leadership with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists, demonstrating how the Celtics can rely on other pieces—including youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the wing—than just Irving in a series.

Boston also boasts the league's best defensive rating, per NBA.com, suggesting the team can make critical stops down the stretch of potential playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavaliers or the All-Star backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors.

It wasn't all good news for Boston on Thursday, though, considering Brown left the game in the third quarter after falling hard on his head, neck and upper back area when he lost his balance following a fast-break dunk.

Nicole Yang of Boston.com noted he entered the league's concussion protocol but was able to fly home with the team. He also tweeted he was all right:

Jaylen Brown @FCHWPO

Appreciate everybody I'm ok .. Got a headache tho 🤕 good team win !!

With Brown apparently able to avoid significant injury, the Celtics will shift their attention toward a Sunday showdown with the Indiana Pacers in a possible playoff preview.

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