Game Preview: Celtics at Timberwolves
BOSTON – Winning an NBA game while being outrebounded is never a simple task, but the Boston Celtics (28-22) have figured out how to do it time and time again.
They did it Wednesday night when they took down the Utah Jazz in TD Garden despite being outrebounded by 11. They might have to do it again when they take on the Timberwolves (25-27) at 8 p.m. tonight in Minnesota.
Utah crashed the boards Wednesday night and grabbed a total of 16 offensive rebounds. The Celtics, however, won the game by double-digits thanks to big performances from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
The fact that the C’s are being outrebounded on a consistent basis isn’t a good sign. However, the fact that they’re winning games in spite of their rebounding woes is quite encouraging.
“Do I like it? No,” Doc Rivers said Wednesday night. “But it’s who we are right now.”
The Celtics are now looking like who we thought they were prior to this season. They’re finding ways to grind out wins and have crawled back into contention for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston has gone 13-5 since the All-Star break and it can be assumed that no one wants to see them on the floor right now.
That goes for tonight’s opponent, the Timberwolves, even though they are the third-best rebounding team in the league. Highlighted by the play of All-Star Kevin Love, who is having an MVP-type season with 26.8 PPG and 13.9 RPG, Minnesota has returned to relevancy this season.
The Timberwolves are led by Love, but several other promising young players surround him on the roster. Nikola Pkovic is having a breakout season and has been a legit All-Star caliber center since he began playing major minutes in February. Ricky Rubio has impressed during his rookie season, dishing out 8.2 assists a night. Michael Beasley is one of the most talented yet troubled players in the league. And Derrick Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, has been playing well as a starter of late.
All of that talent shouldn’t have Boston shaking in its boots tonight, because most of that group listed above will not be playing. Rubio is out for the season with a blown out left knee and Pekovic and Beasley haven’t played in a game in a week as they recover from injuries. Those two are listed as questionable. Jose Juan Barea, who has missed the past three games, is also listed as questionable.
As you can tell, Boston might be catching this talented Timberwolves team at just the right time. The ‘Wolves have not won consecutive games since March 5 and 7, when they beat the Clippers and Trail Blazers. They are coming off of a win over the Bobcats on Wednesday, so this trend is leaning in the Celtics’ favor.
Another factor that favors Boston is that it has won three consecutive games by an average of 10.3 PPG. The Celtics have gone 13-5 since the All-Star break and are playing as well as anyone in the league despite being ravaged by injuries.
Neither team will have its full roster tonight, but this should still be a competitive game. With Love on the other side of the ball, Minnesota will always be a challenging opponent. The Celtics, meanwhile, have been one of the league’s greatest challenges for a full month now. Boston can continue its climb up the standings tonight, but it will have to do so against yet another great rebounding team.
Garnett vs. Love
What an entertaining matchup. There are so many variables that go into making this one interesting, beginning with the fact that Garnett was the person who put the Timberwolves on the map and Love is now the taking over some of KG’s team records.
Love has become a superstar because of his instincts and skills. He isn’t the quickest or most athletic player in the league, but he can dominate with his innate talents, such as reading the path of a shot to position himself for rebounds. However, Garnett’s great length should be able to negate some of those skills tonight.
If Minnesota’s questionable players do not play, that will result in Garnett and Love facing off at the center position. Interestingly, though, they will both spend much of their time away from the basket on offense. Both have great range and will fire up shots from the perimeter if they’re given the opportunity.
Will Allen Be Back?
Ray Allen has missed the past four Celtics games with a sore right ankle. He did, however, travel with the team to Minnesota and will likely be a game-time decision tonight.
Avery Bradley has stepped into the starting lineup in Allen’s absence and played very well. He played a career-high 43 minutes Wednesday night and scored a career-high 23 points on Sunday.
But let’s not be mistaken, Bradley is no Allen. With No. 20 on the floor, Boston’s offense can operate with much more space. A defender must keep tabs on Allen at all times, and that makes things easier on his teammates.
Boston heads into tonight’s game ranked second in the league in opponent field goal percentage with an average of 42.3 percent. That does not bode well for a Minnesota team that isn’t great at shooting the basketball.
Minnesota’s offense is ranked 23rd in the league in field goal percentage. It makes just 43.6 percent of its shots. To make things worse, four of the team’s top five shooters are currently out of the rotation due to injuries or coaching decisions. Love, a 45.4 percent shooter, is the only member of that group who is playing.
The Celtics have a chance to put together a great defensive performance tonight. The team’s best defender, Garnett, will be matched up with the Timberwolves’ top offensive player. If Love doesn’t have a great game, Boston should be able to put the clamps on Minnesota’s offense.