Celtics at Wolves
7:00 pm CST
The Celtics come in to tonight's contest at 33-24 on the season, and are the living exemplar of something we have been talking about on Canis Hoopus for about as long as I can remember: You can't always control when stars will come your way, but just not playing bad players makes a huge, huge difference. The C's aren't loaded with superstars, but nobody in their rotation really hurts them on a nightly basis, and as a result of that, their scrappy and energetic team defense (3rd in the league), and excellent coaching, are in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
They have been excellent since an up and down 19-19 start to the season, going 14-5 over their last 19, but the Wolves get them at an opportune time: the last game of a three game post-All-Star break road trip that saw them play (and win) in Denver last night. Second games of road back to backs are notoriously difficult, and hopefully the Wolves can take advantage. They certainly need to come out with more energy and purpose than they showed on Saturday when they were listless against a mediocre Knicks team that controlled the whole game and cruised to a win.
In the first meeting of these teams back in December in Boston, the Celtics rolled over the Wolves by shooting 52% from the field and going 12-25 from three and also dominating the boards (50-36 total rebounds). Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns both had big scoring nights, but it didn't matter as the Wolves defense was particularly abject that night and Towns was the only Wolves player to collect more than five rebounds. Kelly Olynyk, out tonight with a shoulder injury, was particularly abusive, making seven of his ten shots and all three of his three point attempts, but it was a team-wide defensive failure that cost the Wolves that night.
The Celtics come in not only with the 3rd ranked defense in the league but the 9th ranked offense as well. They aren't a great shooting team generally, but take a lot of threes, don't turn it over, and hit the offensive glass hard, a combination that makes them good enough. They are led offensively by the diminutive Isaiah Thomas, one of the top small guards in the NBA. He's scoring over 21 a night, largely due to his relentlessness attacking the paint and fantastic quickness. He's very hard to stay in front of, and the Wolves help defense will need to be on point to try to contain him tonight. He gets to the line over six times a game but has enough three point chops (35%) to make it necessary to guard him beyond the arc. All in all a very tough guy to deal with, especially since he is also adept at finding open shooters when the defense collapses on him.
The Wolves meanwhile need to put the egg laying against the Knicks behind them and play with some purpose. While the discussion is beginning to move to lottery position, it's important that the team not throw in the towel on the season but keep competing and trying to win. Nobody exactly covered themselves in glory against the Knicks, so hopefully they will have the mindset to do better tonight. One thing the Wolves might be able to take advantage of is the Celtics' tendency to put opponents on the line. They got 32 FTAs in the first meeting (to no avail), and this remains an area of relative strength for the Wolves. It isn't necessarily fun basketball, but a parade to the line might be what's needed for the Wolves to get a win tonight.
They also have to control their defensive glass, something they failed to do in Boston. Given the dearth of big men available to Sam Mitchell tonight, that might be easier said than done, but the perimeter guys are going to have to help out on the boards to keep the Celtics at bay.
Following this one, the Wolves embark on a three game road trip to Toronto, New Orleans, and Dallas, so it would be nice to leave town on a good note following a win.
Our blogging buddies for tonight are at CelticsBlog. Be excellent.
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