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Game 23, Wolves vs. Celtics: Defense, Defense, and More Defense

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Minnesota looks to keep their win streak going against Kyrie and the Celtics

NBA: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (11-11) vs Celtics (12-10)

7:00pm CST

NBA TV

For two teams with nearly identical records, there are very different feelings about each team and how they got to this point.

Boston was one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference when the season began, if not the very favorite after their impressive showing in the playoffs last year coupled with the additions of healthy stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

The idea was that this team would be an offensive juggernaut, considering the potential firepower a lineup consisting of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford could provide. There was also reasonable speculation that the re-integration of Irving full-time might hurt the defense of a team that was so sturdy on that end a year ago.

To put it quite simply, none of this has been true, or at least not yet. Boston has really struggled offensively, currently sitting at 22nd in the NBA in offensive rating. Much of this has been due to their inability to make “wide open” jump shots. A “wide open” shot is one where the closest defender is more than 6 feet from the player shooting the ball. Per NBA.com/Stats, entering today, they are shooting just 36% on wide open three pointers.

This 36% number is fairly close to league average, which would be fine if Boston was a team filled with “average” three point shooters. They’re not however. Kyrie Irving’s shot making ability needs no introduction. Jaylen Brown made 39.5% of his three pointers on about 4.5 attempts a night last season. Jayson Tatum made a sizzling 43.4% of his long-range attempts last year as well, and Hayward and Horford are both above average to good shooters at their respective positions.

It’s unfair to pin too much of this on one or two guys, but it really seems that Brown and Hayward are holding this team back right now. Brown is only making a quarter of his three point attempts, and Hayward is only hitting 29% of his. Yikes. Brown is out tonight, so they’ll likely replace him with, statistically speaking, the worst three point shooter of all time, Marcus Smart.

The good news for Boston, and the bad news for the rest of the NBA, is that the NBA is an extremely long season and it’s more likely than not that these two will figure it out. If (when) that happens, this team will be nearly impossible to stop, and that’s because of it’s already stellar defense.

Entering tonight’s game, Boston is ranked 2nd in defensive rating. Get that offense going and this team is downright terrifying.

As for the Wolves, the past two weeks have been amazing. The difference that RoCo and Saric have made on this team is astounding. This team is having fun again! Yay!

In all seriousness, though, if this defense continues to show up every night, there’s no game that the Wolves can’t keep themselves in. The new guys have brought effort and an obvious preparation that hadn’t been normal around Minneapolis in quite some time. RoCo and Saric have been covered a ton nearly everyday since the trade, so I won’t go too much further into that. The gist of it is that they’ve made a much larger impact than even the most optimistic fan could’ve expected. This is a team currently playing greater than the sum of it’s parts.

So, what does this all mean for tonight? Well, nothing is ever for sure in the NBA, but I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of points on the board tonight. Vegas has the over/under for this game set at 217, and that feels pretty high to me.

Maybe tonight’s the night that Boston’s offense gets going and simultaneously proves that this defense over the past two weeks isn’t sustainable, and I’m sure that’s more likely now that I’ve stated that the over/under feels too high. Whatever, I still expect to see a lot of pretty defensive possessions tonight.

The most intriguing matchup, by far, is Karl-Anthony Towns and Al Horford. Towns and Horford have fairly similar skill sets offensively, with Horford being a little better passer. They both can score in the post, knock down open 3’s, and drive to the basket if need be.

The one place I’d really like to see KAT attack tonight is on the offensive glass. Horford is really good to great at almost everything, but he is not a very good rebounding big man. There is absolutely an opportunity for KAT and the rest of the front court to get some easy buckets off of extra possessions.

This should also be extra important since there’s a high likelihood that there’ll be plenty of misses coming from number 22 in aurora green tonight, like nearly every night these days.

Either way, it’s awesome to feel like the Wolves have a shot in games against teams like Boston, and especially nice to not have to try to outscore every team they play. Maybe the defense collapses tonight, who knows. I’m going to keep enjoying it while we can.

Projected Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Andrew Wiggins

Robert Glovington

Taj Gibson

Karl-Anthony Towns

Celtics

Kyrie Irving

Marcus Smart

Jayson Tatum

Marcus Morris

Al Horford