Celts Can't Stop Towns in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS – The Boston Celtics are now 0-for-2 in their attempts to slow down Karl-Anthony Towns. As a result, they’re now 1-1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Towns, the top overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, was unstoppable during Minnesota’s 124-122 win over Boston Monday night at the Target Center. He finished the contest with game highs of 28 points and 13 rebounds for his 32nd double-double of the season.

“Towns had his way with us the whole night,” said Brad Stevens.

And it started at the jump.

Minnesota’s big man, who totaled 25 points and 16 rebounds against Boston back on Dec. 21, came out of the gates red-hot, notching 15 points and seven rebounds during the first quarter alone. He shot 7-of-10 during the period, including a 4-of-6 performance from inside the paint.

Such efficiency was the story of the night for the Timberwolves as a whole, not only for Towns. Minnesota scored 48 points in the paint, where Evan Turner said the Wolves “made a living,” thanks to dominant play in the post from its bigs and dribble penetration from its perimeter players.

“They manhandled us in the paint,” explained Isaiah Thomas.

Stevens added, “I just thought that we physically got handled, especially by Towns.”

Minnesota’s dominant performance at the offensive end pushed it ahead by as many as 16 points on the night. It led by at least 10 points during each of the four quarters and nursed a double-digit lead for most of the second half.

Monday’s contest marks three consecutive games during which the Celtics struggled against bigger, taller frontlines. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert combined for 34 points and 25 rebounds Friday night in Salt Lake City., and Nikola Jokic and Danilo Gallinari combined for 40 points and 16 rebounds Sunday night in Denver. During this contest, Towns and Gorgui Dieng combined for 45 points and 25 boards.

“You have to figure out what you can do to make it as difficult as possible (against bigger frontlines),” said Stevens. “That’s life in the NBA for everybody but four or five players really. That’s just the way it is and you’ve got to figure it out and be as solid as you can be and make it as difficult as you can.”

Boston did turn the tables on Towns and Minnesota’s offense late in the game. Stevens flipped his defense into a zone, which forced consecutive turnovers after the change. The C’s then began trapping Towns when he caught the ball on the block, which essentially took him out of the game during crunch time.

Such defensive strategies provided the Celtics with some life down the stretch. They trailed by 14 points with 3:58 left on the clock but knew that all hope was not lost.

“I just felt like we were still going to have a chance at the end,” Jae Crowder remembered thinking as he looked at the scoreboard at that moment. “It was just up to us to capitalize on it.”

The C’s did so by scoring 22 of the game’s final 32 points. They trailed by 10 points with 1:22 remaining yet whittled that deficit down to one when Avery Bradley canned a 3-pointer from the right wing with 6.2 seconds left on the clock.

“You can never count us out,” said Isaiah Thomas, who managed to score 18 points despite struggling all night to catch a rhythm at the offensive end. “We’re always going to give it our all and keep fighting and we did.”

He ended his final comment of the night by saying, “We gave ourselves a chance to win, but just came up short.”

Following Bradley’s 3, Zach LaVine made only one of his two free throws, providing the Celtics with a chance to tie or win the game with 5.3 seconds remaining. However, Marcus Smart took the inbound pass three quarters of the court and fired up a 3-pointer that bounced off of the front of the rim as the final buzzer sounded.

Boston did have a chance to win, and after the game its players were proud of that fact. Yet they knew that the final play of the night was not the deciding factor in their most recent defeat.

As Turner put it, “There were a lot of things that occurred prior to that.”

Yes, a lot of things, such as buckets and boards in the paint. Towns, the NBA’s most talented rookie, was the lynchpin of it all.

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