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Celtics 91, Wolves 84: Offense vs. Defense

The Wolves are stifled by one of the league’s premier defenses

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Following a tight loss to Brooklyn on Wednesday, the Wolves visited a very tough Boston team tonight that has continued to prove their worth following the sudden loss of Gordon Hayward on the opening night of the NBA season.

The Celtics are a fun team in many ways. Kyrie Irving’s handle on the ball is second to none, Brad Stevens is an ATO mastermind, and young wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are precocious and still growing. All of that on top of the fact that they’re first in the league in defensive rating.

It’s a recipe to give the Wolves plenty of problems, but things never truly fell apart for Minnesota altogether in this one.

Both teams overall shot abysmally, with the Celtics good for 40 percent from the field and the Wolves just 37 percent. For a nationally televised game, both teams left much to be desired in the first half, grinding it out to a grueling 41-38 halt before things picked up in the latter half of the game.

The bright spot in this one was that Karl-Anthony Towns’ hot streak continued. He finished with 25 points and 23 rebounds, and he was generally alert on defense, which is all we’re really asking of him at this point. Andrew Wiggins, meanwhile, had a rough night, shooting just 25 percent from the field and 50 percent from the line. He’s still displaying those flashes of improved extracurriculars, but the Wolves really could have used a hot shooting night from him in this one.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

On offense, the Celtics’ inside-out style of basketball can be very effective with Irving at the helm, and he did his job in breaking down the Wolves’ defense in this one to create open looks from beyond the arc. Thankfully for the Wolves, Boston shot just 16 percent from three all night. Brown and Tatum, who have both been shooting over 40 percent from deep so far this season, went for a combined 1-10 from three.

But Boston has so many role players, they’re able to find production in other areas when shots aren’t falling. A very noteworthy difference in Boston’s approach to the game compared to Minnesota’s is that ten of their players touched the floor before the end of the first quarter. Brad Stevens clearly has a roster he trusts, filled with role players to fit any given situation.

That can be seen in the fact that a large chunk of Boston’s points came from their bench. With neither Irving nor Al Horford having particularly noteworthy games, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier stepped up for Boston, scoring 18 and 14 respectively. Overall, the Celtics bench produced 42 points.

Midway through the third quarter, Minnesota had an opportunity to capitalize on the Celtics’ shooting struggles, and for a moment it looked as though they might do just that. Towns kept gobbling up rebound after rebound from just about every Celtics miss and the Wolves started clicking on the offensive side of things as they slowly started to build a small lead.

But just like that the tides at the TD Garden shifted, right around the time when Marcus Smart drove right by a snoozing Wiggins for a basket. Wiggins then proceeded to commit a careless inbounds violation to give the ball right back to the Celtics who quickly tied it up with a little over two minutes to go in the third.

From there, the Celtics’ defense outlasted the Wolves and their shots started finding the bottom of the net. Boston is adept at too many aspects of the game — all down the line, from coaching to execution. The silver lining here is that it could have been way worse for the Wolves. Let’s hope Towns can carry his momentum into tomorrow night’s game against Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Stray Observations

  • Nemanja Bjelica looked completely disengaged during this one. He hucked up a couple shots early on with little purpose other than he looked like he thought he deserved it. He is definitely a rhythm player, so hopefully he hits that sweet stride he was in before his injury earlier this season.
  • For as much love as Tyus Jones has received for the strides he’s taken on defense recently -- all of which are deserved -- he struggled to keep Irving in front of him for much of the night. Irving goaded him into his fifth foul of the night midway through the fourth quarter, and his foul trouble created some peculiar lineup challenges for Thibs.
  • The Wolves got bludgeoned on the glass tonight, as the Celtics grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. That was a huge story on a night neither team could shoot straight.
  • Frustrating night for both Wiggins and Jimmy Butler. Wiggins in particular was the worst version of himself, consistently settling for long jumpers.
  • Wolves have another one tomorrow night at home against the Pels, and need to nip this losing streak in the bud.