In some future dimension, this Friday night matchup of the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves is an NBA Finals preview. And in ours, it’s still a pretty damn good game of NBA basketball…right? I’m not sure if this was a good game but it was definitely entertaining, with the bench ultimately sealing the Celtics’ victory.
THE GAME FLOW
Not much going for the Celtics offense in the opening minutes, with blown second-chance points and a fair amount of decent to good looks that didn’t hit their mark. Fortunately the same stodginess affected the Timberwolves, with only young point guard Tyus Jones and stud center Karl-Anthony Towns getting anything of note done for them. And yet when Boston got going on the back of Kyrie Irving, Minnesota soon followed suit, making smart work of the size advantage that Towns, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson provide and taking a brief, small lead.
Brad Stevens decided to give the starters a rest and bring in Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis, all of whom contributed notably to the Wednesday win over the Cavs. This turned out to be an inspired choice. Smart and Rozier picked up where they left off, galvanizing the Cs offense and faking the Wolves into foolish herky-jerky moves that allowed open Boston baskets.
That being said, neither side played particularly good defense in the first quarter, which contributed to the back-and-forth slugfest this game often resembled. Yet in Q2, I began to lose my grip on whether this was an immensely sloppy affair or an outstanding showcase of hard-nosed defenses. There was no doubt on how terrible the shooting of literally everyone involved, though: Boston was shooting 39 percent at the half, while Minnesota put in a paltry 32.6 percent. The T-Wolves only clear advantage with half the game left—aside from, y’know, having Karl Towns—was free-throw shooting and ball control, given that the Cs had horrible luck at the stripe and were their somewhat turnover-prone selves. Yet the score still ended up knotted at 38 when the halftime buzzer went off.
In the third quarter Minnesota established a much clearer advantage, albeit a fairly small one—never greater than 5 to 7 points—as Towns got comfortable in the post and as a shooter and Boston didn’t have a clear method of stopping him. (If Aron Baynes was intended to fill that role, he failed, and played a somewhat mediocre game overall, but did put in some good work in the fourth quarter.) Around KAT, Butler, Andrew Wiggins and the still-somehow-alive Jamal Crawford often functioned as decoys and connective tissue that gave the big man room to maneuver, while contributing just enough offense to keep Boston at bay.
Honestly, for about two-thirds of Q3, the Celtics were their own worst enemy: Failed heat checks, missed three throws, doltish turnovers and fouls, blown rebounding opportunities…all that. Only in the frame’s last four minutes could the Cs manage to get out of their own way while also evading the length of Butler, Towns and bench attackers like Gorgui Dieng.
Rozier and Smart kept up their quality performances, particularly T-Ro: The man has come a long way from being the butt of approximately 9,000,000 middling Twitter jokes about Danny Ainge’s refusal to trade him. He’s always rebounded well, even in his underwhelming freshman year, but he worked the glass phenomenally in this game while still shooting at an efficient clip (54.5 percent). Smart shot an even greater 62 percent. He didn’t contribute as multifaceted a performance as Rozier, but did just as much to pull Boston out of their small hole and ahead of Minnesota. Kyrie couldn’t put a lot of shots up
There’s been a problematic quarter for the Timberwolves last season and this one—the third last year, the fourth this year. The Celtics lead was only 3 (65-62) when Q4 began and went to 7 at the 8:45 mark off a SMARF layup. [Note: At some point I will write a post documenting the etymology of SMARF, much of which is attributable to Celtics Twitter overlord/riffsman Ryan Hebert.]
While Minnesota never fully went away and Towns put in another of his usual stellar performances (25-23-1-0-2), their defense (the actuality of which is debatable, but that’s another matter) waned and the size advantage became moot as Boston went for a hyperspeed lineup (Kyrie/Smart/T-Ro/Theis/Baynes) but had even the bigs in that squad opt for finesse over force. This, and agile defense, turned out to be the deciding factor in the Celtics taking their 5th straight win, 91-84.
HOT ISH: Backcourt rebounding galore (9 boards for Rozier and Kyrie), SMARF and Rozier saving this game when the young starters had difficulties.
NOT ISH: The young starters (Tatum and Brown) having a bad game by their high standards, terrible shooting from deep (and, in the first half, pretty much everywhere), an inability to get to the free-throw line, turnovers. But sometimes Ws are ugly.
I will not stop posting dunk clips.
Uncle Drew feeding the masked German for a slam: