Game Preview: Celtics at Timberwolves
BOSTON – A short two-game road trip for the Boston Celtics (38-35) will conclude at 8 p.m. tonight when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves (26-46) at the Target Center. Tonight’s road game will be the second in as many days for the C’s, as they’re coming off of a disappointing loss to the Knicks on Easter Sunday in New York.
Sunday’s loss was tough to watch but tonight’s game might be the perfect remedy for Boston. The Celtics have won 11 consecutive games against the Timberwolves, including a 104-94 victory on Dec. 5 at TD Garden.
Boston used a strong fourth-quarter performance to run away with that December victory. It opened up the final period with an 11-3 run and eventually built a 17-point lead. All five of Boston’s starters scored as least 12 points in the game, led by 18 points apiece from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
The Timberwolves may be breathing a sigh of relief today, seeing as they’re unlikely to see either of those two future Hall of Famers. Garnett will continue his stretch of missed games as he recovers from left ankle inflammation, and Doc Rivers told reporters Sunday night that he’ll “probably” give Pierce the night off tonight.
Pierce turned his right ankle in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss in New York. That didn’t prevent him from putting together the game’s most impressive box score, which consisted of 24 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. He said after the game that the injury “shouldn’t be a problem,” but there is a high likelihood that Rivers will sit him tonight.
As a result, Boston’s already undermanned roster may become even more limited. Pierce’s absence would likely result in Courtney Lee returning to the starting lineup alongside Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox.
The Celtics may be playing shorthanded right now, but the Timberwolves are, too. They’ve been playing without their best player, Kevin Love, for the past three months. Love broke his hand for the second time this season back on Jan. 6 and hasn’t played since. He is rumored to be nearing a return but the Wolves continue to play without him.
Minnesota may also be missing its starting center for tonight’s game. Nikola Pekovic, who is averaging nearly 16.0 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game this season, missed Saturday’s loss to the Grizzlies with a sprained left ankle. He is listed as questionable for tonight.
Many of the bigger names may be missing for tonight’s game but the contest still must be played. Boston may have to rely on guys like Green, Bass and Jason Terry to get them back into the win column and continue the team’s lengthy winning streak against Minnesota.
Ricky Rubio vs. Avery Bradley
There will be one star on the floor tonight for the Timberwolves and his name is Ricky Rubio. This kid is a magician with the basketball and has been playing incredible basketball over the past few weeks.
Rubio’s last 12 games have featured averages of 15.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 7.8 APG. He has also been on fire from 3-point range of late, having hit 66.7 percent of his 3s over his past five games.
Avery Bradley will be tasked with the challenge of defending Rubio tonight. Bradley has been struggling with his offense but his defensive ability will always be a factor. The Celtics need him to make life difficult on Rubio tonight.
Minnesota is missing its top two big men but it still possesses formidable talent on its frontline. Former Celtic Greg Stiemsma is starting at center, while Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko start at the forward positions. All three of those players possess great length and a high level of athleticism.
Boston’s starting frontcourt is likely to consist of Green, Bass and Wilcox. That trio has been underwhelming of late, with the exception of Green’s scoring. Green has scored at least 19 points in four consecutive games but the C’s need more than just his points. They need Green and his frontcourt partners to give a strong all-around performance at both ends of the court.
Green for 30?
The best part about the last month of Boston’s season has been the emergence of Green. He is truly beginning to look like a star in the making who could eventually be a 20-point scorer in this league.
As mentioned above, Green has tossed in at least 19 points in his last four games. He has also averaged 21.5 PPG since March 18, which is the date that featured a 43-point performance against the Miami Heat.
That March 18 game set off a trend of Boston going to Green early and often on offense. His usage rate (the percentage of a team’s plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) is up nearly 13 percent since that date, which has led to him attempting 14.5 shots per game. Those numbers should rise even higher if Pierce doesn’t play and that may lead to Green scoring upward of 30 points.