clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Game Preview #37: Wolves at Celtics

Mike Conley (rest) will miss his first game of the season as Minnesota visits Jayson Tatum and Boston to cap off a tough road back-to-back that included a tough travel day on Wednesday.

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

After a huge win over the Orlando Magic, the Minnesota Timberwolves head north to face the best team in the league on a brutal back to back. The Boston Celtics have been dominant this year, and they will be looking not only for revenge from their previous meeting but also to keep their undefeated home record alive.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (26-10) at Boston Celtics (28-8)
  • When: Wednesday, January 10 at 6:00 PM CT
  • Where: TD Garden — Boston, MA
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Lea B. Olsen)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Wolves +10, Total: 225.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Wednesday 1/10 at 4:40 PM CT:

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Mike Conley (rest)
  • Rudy Gobert (left hip soreness)

Boston

OUT

  • JD Davison (two-way contract)
  • Drew Peterson (two-way contract)
  • Jordan Walsh (G League assignment)

QUESTIONABLE

  • Jrue Holiday (right elbow sprain injury management)
  • Al Horford (non-COVID illness)
  • Kristaps Porzingis (right knee contusion)

What To Watch For

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

What Version of Jaden McDaniels Shows Up?

When these two teams matched up in November, Jaden McDaniels was a major reason why the Timberwolves came out with a win. McDaniels finished with 20 points and shot 4-9 from three in that matchup. The Celtics put Kristaps Porzingis on him and basically left him wide-open. The approach of treating McDaniels as a non-shooter typically fires up McDaniels and creates some of his best outings.

Recently, though, McDaniels is going through a bit of a slump. McDaniels had a real stinker against the Dallas Mavericks as he just couldn’t buy a bucket. While some of his overall numbers have been ok recently, his outside shot has struggled. Over his last 10 games, McDaniels is shooting just 31.7% from three. Additionally, McDaniels is averaging a career low in rebounds with just 2.5 per game. A significant reason for that low number is that McDaniels is typically guarding at the point of attack, so he is almost always pulled well away from the rim. Still, 2.5 is an unacceptably low number. When McDaniels is active on the boards, it completely changes how effective the defense is, as we saw in their game against the Orlando Magic where McDaniels tied his season high in rebounds with nine.

Despite some of the offensive inconsistencies, it is always a safe bet that McDaniels will at least show up on the defensive end. This will be crucial to try and slow down Jayson Tatum, who has been on a tear recently averaging 30.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists while shooting 54.8/55.6/82.1 over his last four games, but it won’t be enough to pull out a win. When going against the best team in the league who don’t really have any glaring weaknesses, the margin for error doesn’t exist. If the Celtics yet again treat McDaniels as a non-factor on offense, he must capitalize and force them to guard him. If he doesn’t, the offense will get bogged down rather quickly.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Importance of 3-Pointers

Outside shooting hasn’t been the Timberwolves calling card this year, and it isn’t ideal for a game to be largely dictated from there. This game very easily could, though. The Celtics take the most 3-pointers in the league, and it isn’t entirely close as they average 42.8 attempts per game, which is 1.7 more than the Mavericks and 43.5% of their total shot attempts, per Cleaning the Glass. The Celtics rank 27th in at-rim frequency and 30th in mid-range frequency, so it’s pretty clear where they hunt their shots.

Despite their tilted shot distribution, the Celtics are still highly efficient in all three levels of the floor. They rank seventh in at-rim shot accuracy, seventh in the midrange, and sixth from behind the arc. So, even though they don’t actively hunt 2-point shots, they are still elite at executing them. Their shot diet nearly directly combats what the Timberwolves’ defense allows.

So far this season, the Wolves are aggressively funneling shots to the midrange as they allow the second most shots there. They allow the third fewest shots at the rim and the seventh fewest from three. In their first matchup, Minnesota’s defense did a great job of dictating things as Boston had their eighth highest midrange shot frequency on the season and their fourth lowest 3-point frequency. It will be crucial for the defense to repeat that effort.

On the other end, though, the Celtics defense is allowing the fourth highest 3-point shot frequency to opponents. The Wolves are typically more focused on attacking the rim as they rank 19th in 3-point shot frequency, but this game could present a major opportunity. Despite their lack of volume, the Timberwolves have the third highest 3-point percentage of 39.2%.

In their first matchup, Minnesota only shot 35.1% from three, but it was the fifth-highest 3-point frequency of their season. The Wolves shouldn’t just wildly chuck up 3-pointers, but when the ball swings and kick outs are made, it is going to be crucial for guys to knock down open looks. There should be plenty of opportunities for a myriad of guys to have a big night from three.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Muck it Up

The Timberwolves have regularly proven this year that they’re more than capable of mucking up games and coming out the other side with a win. If this game turns into a free-flowing affair with gorgeous ball movement, transition looks, and dynamic shot making, the Wolves’ chances won’t be great. That is exactly the style the Celtics have thrived in all season.

Boston has failed to have an offensive rating of at least 110 in a game just five times this season, and they’ve only won one of those games which was against the Memphis Grizzlies in November. Their first matchup against the Wolves was their second worst offensive rating game of the season.

In that first matchup, Minnesota was able to turn it into a halfcourt game and eliminate most of the pace from the game. Boston averages 79.3% of their plays in the halfcourt, but that rose to 83.9% against the Wolves. Additionally, the Celtics’ transition frequency was just 12% compared to their season average of 15.3%. Boston is the seventh most efficient transition offense and the second most efficient halfcourt offense, so there isn’t really a perfect option here. However, by eliminating the fast-break opportunities, it forces Boston to work even harder for every point.

Additionally, it plays to the Timberwolves’ strengths. Currently, their halfcourt defensive rating of 108.9 is the best in the league. Boston just happens to be second at 111.4; they’re pretty good. When the Wolves get everyone behind the ball and force their opponents to run their halfcourt offense, they’ve thrived. If Minnesota can slow down this game, turn it into a halfcourt affair, and make everything difficult for the Celtics’ offense, they have a real shot at stealing a win in Boston.