Watch It! - Timberwolves at Celtics
Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
C’s Have Backcourt Advantage
Minnesota boasts two big names, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, in its starting backcourt. However, it’s not a stretch to say that the Celtics are the team that holds the advantage with its guards.
Jordan Crawford has already been named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week once this season and Avery Bradley is having a phenomenal month of December. The duo is combining for 26.9 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 6.8 assists per game this season.
Those numbers are not as high as those of Rubio and Martin, but that’s not what really matters. Boston’s starting backcourt is much more efficient. Crawford and Bradley are each shooting at least 44.5 percent from the field. On the other hand, Martin and Rubio are each shooting 40.6 percent or lower from the field. Bradley also lit the Wolves up for a season-high 27 points during these teams’ first matchup of the season.
Wolves Have Frontcourt Advantage
While Boston seemingly holds an advantage in the backcourt, Minnesota undoubtedly has the advantage in the frontcourt with the presence of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
Love is having an unbelievable season and the Celtics haven’t had any answers for him when they’ve faced off. Love dropped in 22 points and nine boards during a preseason game against Boston, and then racked up 23 points and 12 boards when these teams met on Nov. 16. Pekovic also recorded a double-double in that Nov. 16 matchup, as he tallied 20 points and 12 boards.
Love is a very difficult player for any team to defend because he’s very versatile. He isn’t bigger or faster than his opponents, but has a great basketball IQ and a very refined inside-outside game. Pekovic, meanwhile, is one of the biggest and strongest bodies in the league. Boston does not have a true center with similar size to Pekovic.
Minnesota's MVP Candidate
We just touched on how good Love is, but let’s go into further detail. This is a guy who currently leads the NBA in rebounding (13.6 RPG) and is tied for third in scoring (25.0 PPG), all while dishing out an average of 4.1 assists.
Love is having an unbelievable month of December thus far. Through five games this month, he is averaging 28.0 PPG, 13.2 RPG and 4.0 APG. He’s shooting a ridiculous 57.1 percent from downtown and just scored 42 points Friday night against San Antonio.
Love is, without question, a legitimate MVP candidate that the Celtics will be forced to deal with tonight.
One of Boston’s strengths this season has been its bench. As Brad Stevens noted on Sunday, however, Minnesota’s reserves have gotten the better of Boston’s bench this season.
“What’s hurt us in both of the games, the exhibition game and then in the last one, was their bench,” Stevens said. “(Dante) Cunningham and (Robbie) Hummel and (Jose) Barea, those guys have come off and really hurt us. That’s a skilled group when you mention those three guys specifically coming off of that bench.”
Stevens has a pretty sharp memory. Barea (13 points), Cunningham (12 points) and Hummel (eight points) had their way with Boston’s bench on Nov. 16. The C’s will need to prevent that from happening again tonight.
Kris Humphries has missed the past two games with a bruised right knee but the Celtics expect him to be back in the lineup tonight against the Timberwolves. His return couldn’t have come at a better time.
As we’ve already touched on, Minnesota brings a formidable frontline to the table. Humphries isn’t a 7-foot center, but he may be the strongest of Boston’s big men. He could see time defending both Love and Pekovic tonight.
The question that remains to be answered is how many minutes Humphries will see now that Kelly Olynyk is back in the lineup. Humphries was averaging just less than 20 minutes a night while Olynyk was out with a sprained ankle. Tonight will be the first game since Olynyk’s injury in which Stevens will have the opportunity to use both players.