BOSTON -- When somebody asked Boston first-year coach Brad Stevens about the development of young Celtics forward Jared Sullinger before Monday night's game against the Timberwolves, Stevens suggested his former Ohio State star would be well advised to study Kevin Love's game this coming offseason.
Maybe Sullinger's a quicker study than that.
His late-game play suggested that in Monday's 101-97 victory over the Wolves at TD Garden.
Sullinger made like Love with a three-point shot with 2:20 left that gave the Celtics a 95-92 lead that they never lost on a night when the Wolves eyed moving above .500 but fell back below it with a 12-13 record.
Sullinger finished the Wolves off by hitting five free throws down the stretch, while Wolves coach Rick Adelman uncharacteristically used his bench significantly in both halves on the second night of back-to-back games.
The Wolves on Monday finished the eighth set of 20 back-to-back games this season -- even though it's not yet even Christmas -- and they started off looking like it.
The Celtics led 6-0, 16-7 and 29-21 by the end of the first quarter before the Wolves' bench got them back in the game.
Yes, you heard that right: The Wolves' bench.
After watching Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Mike Conley get to the rim at will during the first two games of a three-game trip that ended in Boston, Adelman finally found some playing time for rookie center Gorgui Dieng, the team's most natural shot blocker.
He used Dieng for eight second-quarter minutes on a second unit that included reserves J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute, and either Dante Cunningham or starter Love.
The Wolves trailed by six points when Dieng entered the game with 8:24 left in the first half. They twice took a brief one-point lead late in the half before the Celtics took a 51-50 lead into halftime while Adelman rode that second unit all the way into intermission.
Adelman again turned to his second unit in the fourth quarter when the Celtics built a 74-69 lead after three quarters on a night that Kevin Martin didn't play because of a knee injury and Wolves stars Love and Ricky Rubio combined to shoot 11-for-37.
This time, Barea's three-point shooting brought the Wolves back into the game and helped give them a 92-90 lead when Love took a Barea pass and scored with 3:40 left.
Adelman didn't bring Rubio and Robbie Hummel back until the game's final seconds, after Sullinger had put the Celtics ahead to stay.
Cunningham left the game with 3:58 left when he came down on his left ankle battling Sullinger for a ball. Cunningham writhed in pain on the floor until he got up eventually walked off the court unassisted.
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