For the second time this year, the Wolves will take on the Boston Celtics. The first game against the Celtics came in the post-Jimmy Butler world on December 1st, which the Wolves lost 118-109.
These games against the Celtics represent a good litmus test of the Wolves. The Celtics have the roster of a bonafide championship contender and, although they may not have been always playing to that level, they are firmly in the upper echelon of the NBA Elite. The Celtics have playmaking skills at every position and can trot out a five-man lineup that theoretically can combat the Warriors lineup of death. The team has a deep bench that allows them to throw all sorts of lineup combinations out there.
In fact, the reason the Celtics have been so up-and-down is that they have so many players that they need to feature. There are simply too many mouths to feed and some players seem to look significantly less effective when they do not have the ball in their hands as much. Everyone 1-8 in their rotation plays more than 22 minutes per game but no more than 32. Their depth is remarkable.
Of course, the depth of both the Celtics and the Timberwolves will be tested tonight. Kyrie Irving and Aaron Baynes will be out for the Celtics and Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, and Robert Covington are questionable or doubtful (they seem unlikely to play).
For the Wolves, that means that Josh Okogie is likely to get the starting nod at the wing and Jerryd Bayless will be the backup point guard. Both players are going to have their work cut out for them, as Bayless will likely have to deal with Terry Rozier/Marcus Smart and Okogie is going to have to cover either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum.
This game is going to be an absurd challenge for Karl-Anthony Towns. KAT has been absolutely killing it the last few games and he clearly is getting fed more with Tyus Jones manning the point guard spot. However, Towns is going to be closely guarded by Al Horford, one of the best defensive centers league, who frustrated Towns in their last matchup. Towns was -13 and shot 6 of 15 in that previous game.
The Wolves are also going to struggle to come up with much else on offense. The Celtics have the 4th best defensive rating in the NBA. Between Gordon Hayward, Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart, they have a ton of defensively strong wings. Kyrie Irving is typically the defensive weak spot, but without him tonight, the Celtics are going to be rock-solid across the board.
While the Celtics have always had a strong defense, the Wolves also are not going to have a lot of options. Tyus Jones is an incredible facilitator, but he more likely to play within his game and does not provide much of a scoring punch. Covington is the team’s most willing three-point shooter and without him the Celtics should be much more willing to collapse on Towns in the paint.
That basically leaves Andrew Wiggins to create offense for the Wolves. Maybe he will have one of his blowup games. It is always an option.
An interesting thing to watch will be how Thibs handles the Taj Gibson - Dario Saric rotation. The Wolves almost need Saric out there as much as possible to provide the team with some additional spacing and the Celtics are more likely to spread the floor on offense by playing a wing up a position. This could mean that we are going to see (most) of a lineup we have been clamoring for with Jones-Okogie-Saric-Towns playing big minutes together.
It’s tough to imagine the Wolves going to Boston and pulling out a win with all of these injuries, but hopefully the team can manage to make it interesting.
Projected Starting Lineups
Our blogging buddies are over at CelticsBlog. Let’s hope its a fun one.