Kevin Garnett always gets up to play his old squad the Minnesota Timberwolves, who traded him to the Boston Celtics in 2007, and Wednesday night was no different when he knocked in 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds while leading the Celtics to a 104-94 win over Minnesota at TD Garden. Garnett got help from Rajon Rondo, who put up 17 points and 11 assists in his first game back from suspension, and every Celtics starter scored in double figures. Boston shot 52 percent in a balanced offensive effort the only negative of which was the 16 turnovers. Minnesota played the Celtics tough despite being on the second night of a back to back, and actually held a 51-47 lead at the half. But the Celtics raced out of the gates in the third quarter, putting up 32 points in the frame and the 'Wolves never got back to within one possession.
Garnett went to the bench with 7:08 remaining in the third and the Celtics trailing 61-59. This is typically when Boston falls apart. Their defense this year when Garnett has been on the floor hasn't been anything special and it has become an utter mess whenever he sits down for breather. However on Wednesday when Garnett headed to the sideline for his usual break the Celtics immediately rattled off an 8-0 run, turning a four point deficit into a six point lead. Minnesota was able to stay within striking distance for the remainder of the half thanks to the Celtics giving up a number of absurdly easy shots, but the 'Wolves weren't able to get stops either. Rondo had the Boston offense humming at this point and he, Jason Terry, and Chris Wilcox combined for 16 points after KG went to the bench. Garnett returned to start the fourth and he and Jared Sullinger quickly put the Timberwolves away, stretching the lead to 10 on a Sullinger free throw early in the fourth. The 'Wolves never got back to within single digits.
The Celtics' defense was very good against the Portland Trailblazers last Friday and was excellent for one quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks the following night. Against the Timberwolves the Celtics were very poor early on, once again falling apart the second KG subbed out and letting the 'Wolve hang 30 on them in the first quarter. However after that they were very strong. There was a marked improvement in particular from Rondo, who looked far more engaged on the defensive end than at any point this season. Rondo is an excellent defender when he puts his mind to it but he has been letting players get passed him far too easily this year, allowing them to penetrate into the interior and thus break down Boston's D. He wasn't perfect on Wednesday. He isn't Avery Bradley after all who plays every defensive possession like it's the final minute of the NBA finals. Rondo takes plays off, and true to form he had a couple of awful possessions in which he just watched Ridnour or J.J. Barea just stroll past him for layups on Wednesday. But overall he was far more engaged. He was more committed to fighting through screens. He was pressure the ball more. He was just far more intense on that end of the floor on Wednesday than he has been thus far this season. The Celtics interior defense was also way better against Minnesota. Garnett, Wilcox and Brandon Bass all came up with impressive defenses of the rim at different points. Bass in fact finished with three blocked shots. They were helped out slightly by Minnesota missing a lot of free throws (Kevin Love missed six freebies all by himself) but it was still marked improvement. Minnesota wouldn't even have gone over 90 if not for a bunch of garbage time points.
Reserves Settling In
Earlier this year Celtics101 remarked on the fact that every night a different Celtic sub was coming up with a big game. There are two ways to look at that concept; one is that the Celtics are deep, the other is that the subs were being inconsistent. On Wednesday however no reserve scored in double figures yet every one made valuable contributions. Jeff Green gave the Celtics a nice shot in the arm in the second quarter when he scored all eight of his points. Courtney Lee only scored two in his 20 minutes of play, but his defense on Barea was very strong. Jared Sullinger almost single handedly put Minnesota in the penalty early in the fourth thanks to a myriad of up fakes. And Wilcox was his usual self – some nice rebounds, a few hustle points at the rim, and a few nice plays on defense. No one did anything particularly special, they all just stayed in their roles and went about their business. That is what the Celtics need. Expecting a different player to come up with an outstanding performance off the bench every game isn't very realistic and probably is not a formula for sustained success. On Wednesday the Celtic subs just did their job. That is what Boston needs.
Turnovers Still an Issue
It was actually rather hard to figure out how Boston was trailing after two quarters considering that they shot over 50 percent and held Minnesota to just 43. However further examination showed that they had turned the ball over 10 times, and actually did so on four straight possessions to close out the half. Their offense was overall very strong, but there were stretches where they just got sloppy. The transition turnovers were a particularly troublesome problem again as the Celtics continued to botch up what should be easy baskets, leading instead to a number of easy baskets for Minnesota on plays that should have been the other way round. Rondo was partially responsible for this. He just looked a little rusty in the first half, notably missing on a couple of lobs to Wilcox and Garnett, plays that are normally almost automatic. It was understandable considering he had not played in a week, but it was still a problem. The good news is that the Celtics talked things over at the half and improved, only turning the ball over six times the rest of the way. They want to keep the turnover number between 12 and 16, that averages to around three or four per quarter – a manageable number. When it gets up to five or six in a frame that is when they get into trouble.
What It Means
The Celtics crushed the Trailblazers last Friday and played well enough to win in Milwaukee on Saturday despite not having their best player on the second night of a back-to-back. This marks the third straight game in which an impartial observer could say that Boston played very well. The Celtics can build off this one. It has been a struggle for Boston thus far but they may finally be gaining some momentum.
The Celtics enjoy a day off then travel to Philadelphia to take on the Sixers, the first leg of a day home-and-home, on Friday. Boston tips off game one at 7:00 pm on Friday from the Wells Fargo Center then wrap up their business with Philadelphia at 7:30 on Saturday back in Boston. These are two big games. The Celtics are currently tied with Philadelphia for third place in the Atlantic Division. If they can put the Sixer in the rear view mirror they can then start focusing on reeling in Brooklyn and New York.
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