Tonight’s game began with the Celtics and the Timberwolves trading baskets, which led to an early 6-4 lead. Unfortunately, it would not last, as the Timberwolves’ shooting got hot just as the Celtics’ went ice cold, about midway through the first quarter. The strong shooting was led by Ryan Gomes, Oleksiy Pecherov (who finished with a career-high 24 points), and former Celtic Al Jefferson. The T-Wolves actually shot over 50% in the first quarter, and this, combined with generally sloppy play from the Boston’s starters, led to the Celtics being down by five at the end of the first. This is beginning to become a trend for the Celtics, these slow starts. They started slow yesterday as well. This is not such a big deal with lower-caliber teams such as the Wolves or last night’s 76ers, but against good teams this won’t fly. The Celtics starting five must come out of the gate harder if they want to be able to contend with better teams.
The Celtics began their second quarter with their second rotation in the game, counting on them for some of the same magic that they showed through the first five games. This was the first time, however, when it felt like they might really need it. The early goings of the quarter were marked with multiple missed three-pointers until Rasheed Wallace hit one to tie the game up. Unfortunately, as soon as the subs came out, the game starting getting away from the Celtics again. Minnesota went on a 16-8 run in the last five minutes of the half to close things with an 8 point lead that at the time seemed insurmountable. The Celtics played poorly, without rhythm, the entire half, and it looked like it would cost them the game.
The third quarter was marked by the Celtics getting open looks at the basket but not getting their shots to fall in. The offense was working, it was just not converting into very many points. The bright spot of the quarter, though, was Rajon Rondo, who connected for a whopping 14 points in the 3rd quarter alone. An Eddie House 3-pointer at the buzzer tied up the game. All in all, the Celtics’ 3rd quarter can be seen as the turning point in the game, even if it was a very gradual turn. In the first half, they looked completely out of sync and were not scoring. In the third, however, their offense began to come alive, even though they weren’t make all of their shots. Despite this, they still put up 31 points in the quarter, their most of any of the four quarters of play.
Though the Celtics went down by three early on, Eddie House hit his other 3-pointer to tie it up almost immediately. Once again, the experienced bench was bailing out the starting rotation. But as the bench substituted out, the starting rotation finally started to heat up. All 5 starters finished the game with double-digits in points. For some reason, the Timberwolves continued to play off Rondo in the 4th, and he continued to make them pay by hanging out under the rim and receiving numerous passes for easy put-backs. Minnesota’s strategy of forcing Rondo to shoot worked against them and definitely cost them the game. It was close up until the end, but a Kevin Garnett tip off a jump-ball at 3.6 seconds pinned the Wolves in their back-court with just 0.9 seconds to go. They inbounded successfully, but the final shot was blocked and the Celtics came away victorious.
So, what did we learn? Well, we learned that the Celtics are not going to win every game via a blowout. Back-to-back games are difficult to win, especially with both on the road. And the Celtics Big 3 are getting older. These games will be especially tough for them as they will have to fight through the lack of rest that comes with such games. But we also learned that this team does not panic, even when it gets down. Eight or ten points can seem insurmountable to us as fans, but the experience of the Celtics teaches them differently. As long as they continue to execute their offense and their defense, they can overcome early game sluggishness, at least against bad teams. Their next game is against Phoenix, a much tougher opponent. This will be a far better test of their abilities and a greater measure of how they rate compared with the rest of the league. At least this time they’ll get a day off first.