The Wolves were at home, and the Celtics were on the second night of a back to back, and yet it was Boston who wore down the Wolves and made the plays late in the game to finish off a 11 victory at Target Center.
The Celtics established control of the game in the first half, mainly with their excellent defense that the Wolves couldn’t find any consistency against. A lack of ball and player movement by the Wolves fed into that, and they were reduced to one-on-one play that was only intermittently effective. The Celtics were able to find open looks for three in the first half, and finally found a rhythm, with a drive and kick game.
The Wolves hung around in the second quarter thanks in large part to another explosion from Derrick Rose, who had 12 in the first half (and finished with 26 to lead the team.) But they had very little else going, and the Celtics were able to bring their multiple weapons to bear to take a nine point halftime lead.
The second half played out in a familiar way, as the Wolves tried to make runs to get back into it. They were finally able to tie the game at 89 on a Gorgui Dieng three point play early in the fourth quarter, but the following sequence proved decisive, as missed threes by Dario Saric and Robert Covington and a three by Marcus Morris led to a 7-0 Celtics run, and a lead they would not relinquish. Every time the Wolves closed, the Celtics had an answer, whether it was a Kyrie Irving drive, a Gordon Hayward basket, or a Jayson Tatum jumper, the Wolves could not get the key stops they needed down the stretch.
In the end, the Wolves just weren’t quite good enough tonight. Other than Rose, nobody could find their offensive game consistently. They didn’t move the ball with sharpness or purpose, and wound up with just 19 assists on 37 made field goals. On the other side of the ball, the Celtics made 17 of 44 threes, and all 21 of their free throw attempts. The Wolves did a decent job defending the paint, but the Celtics have a lot of offensive talent, and they couldn’t stop everyone. Gordon Hayward wound up leading the Celtics with 30, as he frequently had a mismatch especially when the Wolves went small. Robert Covington started the game on Irving, and later switched to Tatum, but that meant lesser defenders were tasked with very difficult assignments, and the Celtics were able to take advantage frequently enough to grab the victory.
This was especially noticeable when the Wolves went small, either with two point guards in the game or later when they went Teague-Rose-Wiggins-Covington-Towns to finish the game. Tom Thibodeau obviously felt he needed the offense, but it left them in a very difficult position defensively and they simply could not get the needed stops.
The Wolves just didn’t play well enough to win tonight. It happens. The key is not to let this become a losing streak. They are back at it Monday at home against the Rockets.