Wolves Fool Celtics, Pick Up First Win Against Boston Since 2007
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Nikola Pekovic sparked the Wolves with a big 29-point effort and continuous trips to the free throw line in a 110-100 victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday at Target Center.
The Wolves center, who missed Saturday’s game against Memphis with a sprained left ankle, was unstoppable against the injury-plagued Celtics, so much so that Boston coach Doc Rivers called him a “big monster” in the middle. His play, as well as a focused effort across the board, led Minnesota to their first win against the C’s in 11 tries dating back to February 2007.
Wolves vs. Celtics
“I think because Pek did such a great job in the first quarter, it put them in foul trouble,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “It put them in that kind of position where we were going to dominate in the paint tonight, and they weren’t going to do anything about it.”
The Wolves’ frontcourt enjoyed a 62-38 advantage in the paint, partially due to the absence of Boston’s Kevin Garnett. The former Minnesota star did not play with an inflamed ankle.
A turning point may have been when the Wolves were up 89-82 in the fourth quarter. Coach Rick Adelman called a timeout, and his squad embarked on a 7-0 run afterwards off of four points from Dante Cunningham and 3-pointer from Alexey Shved. The lead was doubled, and Minnesota held on to snap their drought against Boston.
With Cunningham’s efforts on both ends, he earned high praise from his head coach.
“He is always in the right spot, especially when they went small with four small guys,” coach Adelman said. “That's why we like to have him there, and then when he is making shots at the other end too it's good to have him on the floor."
Minnesota also received big efforts off the bench from Cunningham (19 points), J.J. Barea (11 points) and Alexey Shved (nine points). They shot 48 percent as a unit and scored a season-high 23 fastbreak points.
“I think we played [a] pretty focused game tonight,” Kirilenko added. “I think it’s the second game I’ve seen lately—the Thunder game [being the other]—where we controlled the tempo all game long. We didn’t allow the other team to jump on our back for a long time. I think it’s a great example of how we are supposed to play, this kind of game style and rhythm.”
None of this is meant to discredit Boston, which shot 51.9 percent without its three best players—including 63 percent in the second quarter. The Celtics were led by a 19-point performance from Avery Bradley, and Jason Terry and Terrence Williams added 14 each off the bench.
“"They shot the ball really well in the first half,” Adelman said. “They made every open shot in the first half. They did a nice job of moving the ball and carried it out throughout the game. That's what dangerous about a team that has injuries but they have guys that have been in this league and have been successful. They are still a dangerous team."
Leader of the Pack: Andrei Kirilenko
Sure, Pekovic has the flashy point total, but Kirilenko shot 6-for-7 from the field totaling 17 points along with nine rebounds and five assists. Kirilenko is essential to Minnesota’s tempo and rhythm throughout the game, and when he is finishing baskets at a high rate and distributing well, he is the ultimate glue guy.
“We started playing inside a lot, especially with Pek. I think it was a great idea. Everybody else started being more active,” Kirilenko said.
Play of the Game
Midway through the second quarter, Kirilenko deflected a pass from Jeff Green and it was recovered by Barea. Barea immediately ran the floor, finding Kirilenko on the right side near the hoop. Instead of going up with the ball, Kirilenko gave a touch pass that looked almost like a volleyball set to a cutting Shved for a lay-in.
"That's right, it was. It felt good. It felt good to have everybody out there."— Wolves coach Adelman on being the healthier team, a rare instance this season.
The Wolves will take a brief road trip out to Milwaukee on Wednesday before returning home to host Toronto and Detroit on consecutive nights this weekend.