Celtics Not Underestimating Love, T'Wolves

WALTHAM, Mass. – Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming to town Monday night, and Brad Stevens is warning everyone not to read into their 11-12 record.

“I think they’re really good, and I’m not going based on records or anything like that,” Stevens said on Sunday. “I’m going on the way I’ve felt twice in the building with them. I think they’re really a good basketball team.”

Kevin Love rebounds against Boston

The Celtics will do their best to keep Kevin Love, the league's top rebounder, off the glass Monday night.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

Love is the main reason why. The All-Star forward leads the league in rebounding with an average of 13.8 per game, and he’s also fourth in the league in scoring with his 24.7 points per game. Love is coming off of a ridiculous performance against San Antonio in which he scored 42 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. As Stevens put it, “Love is playing at an MVP level.”

He may not be the point guard but he makes the Timberwolves go at both ends of the court. Love is the best in the league at crashing the glass, which Stevens says affects the game on offense, defense and in the open court.

“I think he’s the best transition offensive rebounder that I’ve ever seen,” said Stevens. “For instance, I think that when the ball is in the open court, he sniffs that ball out. He gets all of the misses and finishes them, so it’s not a typical block-out situation when you’re in transition.”

Love’s ability to rebound in transition adds to what is already an extremely difficult Minnesota team to defend in the open court. Rick Adelman has the Timberwolves playing at the second-highest pace in the league. He wants to take advantage of Love’s rebounding, Ricky Rubio’s creativity, Kevin Martin’s elite shooting and the rest of the team’s athleticism.

“If you don’t get back and set your defense, you’re in trouble,” said Stevens. “They challenge that. It’s easy to even say it, ‘Guys have got to get back,’ but it’s another thing to do it against those guys. Those guys put you in a (bad) position.”

As Avery Bradley said, Minnesota’s troublesome transition play all begins with its superstar forward’s rebounding ability.

“Kevin Love is a very great rebounder,” Bradley said. “He gets it and he looks to just throw it ahead to (Corey) Brewer or even Rubio, they start to break (up court) early.”

Bradley and the Celtics have an understanding of what it’s going to take to be successful at slowing down Minnesota’s transition offense. They know that they need to get back quickly after every shot they take, and they know they need to communicate with each other.

One of the things Stevens doesn’t want his team to worry about is getting caught in cross-matches, where, say, a guard winds up defending a big man in transition. Stevens would rather his team concentrate on the fundamentals of open-court defense.

“The basket has to be protected, the ball has to be stopped, and then you better find the best shooters,” Stevens said. “Transition (defense) supersedes matchups, that’s what we’ve always said.”

Problem is, this Minnesota team can throw some very difficult matchups at Boston. Love can cause problems inside and out, and Martin is an electric scorer on the perimeter. Additionally, Nikola Pekovic is one of the biggest bodies in the league and the Timberwolves bring a lot of athleticism off of the bench with Jose Barea, Dante Cunningham and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Minnesota’s 11-12 record is not a true indication of what it brings to the table. Led by a legitimate MVP candidate in Love, this Timberwolves team will pose quite a challenge to the Celtics Monday night at TD Garden.