Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 80 points to keep Boston’s perfect home record intact despite 29 points from Anthony Edwards and a well-rounded effort from a short-handed Minnesota squad.
On the second night of a back-to-back, against the best team in the league, and without Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert the Minnesota Timberwolves were set up for disaster against the Boston Celtics. Despite their fatigue and missing pieces, the Timberwolves put on an absolute show that deserved a better result. Both of these matchups this season were a blast and looked like what would be a sublime NBA Finals matchup.
With no Gobert, Kyle Anderson was promoted to the starting lineup as Karl-Anthony Towns scaled back up to being the starting center. The frustrations with Anderson’s season have been loud this year, and this game unfortunately won’t help to quiet them. From tipoff, the Celtics completely ignored Anderson on offense. Anderson did a good job of attacking the space afforded to him as he managed to rack up four points and three assists in the first quarter. However, his utter lack of spacing allowed the Celtics to clog the paint, double anyone around the rim, and was the catalyst to a very clunky offensive start.
Anderson was subbed out after just a few minutes and was replaced by Naz Reid. Reid offensive versatility made an instant impact as he attacked the rim and spread the defense. By the time we hit the first media timeout, Anderson was a -7 and Reid was a +5. As the first quarter ended, those numbers ended up at -10 and +1 respectively.
Aside from Reid, the play of Karl-Anthony Towns and Jordan McLaughlin helped the Timberwolves keep it close after the first. McLaughlin knocked down a couple open threes, and Towns was aggressive early. With no Kristaps Porziņģis, Towns was adamant about attacking the rim. He was able to rack up seven quick points, three free throw attempts, and four rebounds without committing a turnover or a foul.
Defensively, though, the Wolves couldn’t do anything to slow down Jaylen Brown. The 2023 All-NBA Second Team selection started the game with 15 points on 5-7 shooting. He knocked down 3-pointers off the catch, hit a step back trey, and effortlessly attacked the rim. Brown had been in a bit of a shooting slump over his last five games, but he very quickly broke out of that tonight.
As the second quarter got under way, the Timberwolves continued to keep it close with quality shot making and disciplined defense. Unfortunately, their shots quickly went cold, which then affected their ball security and defense. Passes became lazier and the point-of-attack defense disappeared. The Celtics continuously got to the paint with ease, which generated a myriad of dump-offs and kick-outs for open looks.
Despite these lapses, Minnesota continued to keep it close as neither team could buy a shot. Coming into the game, a key for the Timberwolves was to muck it up and make it a slog in the halfcourt. That’s exactly what the second quarter devolved into.
By halftime, neither team was shooting over 45% from the floor. Towns carried over his aggressiveness from the first, but he couldn’t buy a bucket as he finished 2-7 shooting. Thankfully, Jayson Tatum followed suite with a 2-7 first half shooting performance. While the shooting struggles for both teams stood out in the first half, it was the Timberwolves ability to control the pace that was the highlight.
In tonight’s game preview, I touched on how important it would be for the Wolves to slow down the game and make it messy. Mission accomplished in the first half. Boston had some quality looks and were overall pretty effective in the halfcourt, but the Timberwolves did a phenomenal job of limiting possessions. With only three first half turnovers and giving up just one offensive rebound, Minnesota was able to dictate the pace. They didn’t let the Celtics get a bevy of easy buckets, and the slowed pace allowed their defense to really bother a lot of Boston’s scorers.
This slowed pace also led to the Timberwolves playing a bit more hero ball on offense. It’s not an ideal strategy, but without Conley as the floor general, the Wolves’ offense was bound to devolve into this if they wanted to stand a chance. Thankfully, Anthony Edwards got hot. He got to the rim consistently and started cooking from the mid-range. At the end of the second quarter, Edwards had 14 points and four rebounds on 7-12 shooting. Edwards’ late outburst was a major reason why Minnesota headed into halftime with only a one-point deficit.
As the third quarter progressed, the Timberwolves continued to keep it close as they relentlessly attacked the interior. At the seven-minute mark, the Wolves were shooting 100% at the rim and 42.9% from the mid-range while Boston sat at 57.1% and 38.5% respectively. Despite the 2-point shooting disparities, the Celtics continued to maintain their advantage from outside. Even though the Timberwolves were dominating the interior, they were trading twos for threes. Boston continued their hot shooting as they were up to 42.3% from outside compared to 29.4% for Minnesota. Cooling off Brown and Tatum looked like an impossibility.
Despite the hot outside shooting and volume of free throws for the Celtics, they still couldn’t pull away as the Timberwolves continued to execute on offense. Towns continued to pressure every area of the court while Reid knocked down a few big threes. Edwards continued his superstar-esque form with dazzling pull-up after pull-up, and Shake Milton even got in on the action with a well-timed steal and effective cutting.
After three quarters, the Timberwolves had a well-deserved six-point lead. The offense was clunky and disjointed at times, but it was some of the most disciplined basketball this team has played all season. Entering the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves only had four turnovers and allowed only two offensive rebounds. Their defensive rotations were on point, their hands were active, and they avoided unnecessary mistakes. It was a performance that was uncharacteristically disciplined and deserving of a win.
With the first three quarters being more of a slog, the fourth quarter turned into a shootout. There were spurts of chaos, but it was some of the most impressive shot making you’ll see all season. It was truly a display of offensive brilliance. Edwards continued to dance on opponents to create any shot he wanted. Even Anderson consistently attacked the rim and consistently finished. Anderson had a rough start to the game, but he steadily found his groove and was absolutely crucial down the stretch.
Throughout the entire game, the “others” on the Timberwolves stepped up in a major way. At the end of regulation, Anderson had 17 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. Additionally, Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped up with 12, three, and three, while Reid had an impressive 19, 10, and three respectively.
While the Timberwolves spread the wealth and found production from across the board, the Celtics leaned on the superhuman performances of Brown and Tatum who finished regulation with a combined 64 points, nine rebounds, and five assists while shooting 9-17 from three along with 17 made free throws. It was a true performance of the stars, but it wasn’t enough to finish it in regulation. After getting fouled with 8.5 seconds left, Edwards knocked down two massive free throws to tie the game after a lengthy review. With substantial time remaining, Tatum attacked the midrange, spun back to his left, and got a relatively clean look that just rimmed out. Time for free basketball.
Overall, the Timberwolves played nearly a perfect game. Both teams shot 41% from three, had turnover rates below 9%, and offensive ratings over 115. The Timberwolves committed just six turnovers and allowed only seven offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, one of those rebounds came in the closing moments of regulation that led to a Jrue Holiday corner three, and one of the turnovers came in overtime where Edwards failed to deal with a double team that quickly led to a dagger three by Tatum.
In the end, the sheer barrage of threes and free throws by the Celtics was too much for the Timberwolves to overcome. Despite the teams shooting the same percent from three, the Celtics took 12 more attempts and made five more threes. That 15-point differential combined with the 31 free throw attempts, which accounted for a free throw rate of 33.7 compared to 18.9 for the Timberwolves, pushed the Celtics across the finish line against a depleted and dreary Timberwolves team. Losses suck. They always have and always will suck. It’s pretty difficult to be anything other than proud of that performance, though. Good game Boston, see you in the Finals.
The Wolves will fly back to Minneapolis before returning to action on Friday night, which will mark their first matchup of the season with the 10-26 Portland Trail Blazers, who will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Fans can watch the 7 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.
After 16 games in a row against playoff opponents, that streak will come to an end on Friday before picking back up on Sunday when Minnesota hosts Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.
proud of our fight.
Ant – 29 PTS / 6 REB / 3 AST
KAT – 25 PTS / 13 REB / 6 AST / 2 STL
Naz Reid. – 19 PTS / 10 REB / 3 AST / 3 BLK
Kyle – 17 PTS / 8 REB / 5 AST / 1 BLK / 1 STL
NAW – 15 PTS / 4 REB / 3 AST / 1 BLK / 1 STL pic.twitter.com/W6okmur1pj
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 11, 2024