The Boston Celtics are a cruel bunch of dudes. First, they quickly built a lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves so huge that it silenced the Target Center and sent fans scurrying to their phones for updates on the Twins. Then, they proceeded to blow that very lead, even giving the last-place Timberwolves the lead for a few possessions here and there. Suddenly, the crowd actually believed they were going to witness something spectacular.
But just when Timberwolves fans were allowing themselves the briefest glimmers of hope, the Big Three scored six points in the final minute of the game, sealing the 85-82 Celtics victory.
All of this against a Timberwolves squad missing power forward Kevin Love, theist most dynamic player. Way to kick a team when they’re down… jerks.
First Quarter Dominance
The Celtics could only have played such a cruel joke on the Timberwolves and their fans by out-scoring Minnesota 32-13 in the first quarter. Delonte West, starting in place of the injured Rajon Rondo (right pinky injury), began the game by hitting two jump-shots from beyond 20 feet for the 5-2 Celtics lead.
The Timberwolves tied it up 5-5, but the Celtics responded with a 17-0 run that involved every Celtic starter. First, Nenad Krstic backed down Timberwolves power forward Anthony Randolph for the basket and a foul. Then, Kevin Garnett stole the ball and hit West on the fast break. West pushed it up the court, faked a drive inside long enough to draw in the defenders, then found the trailing Ray Allen for the easy trey.
Krstic followed up Allen’s three-pointer with a five-footer, then Paul Pierce scored three points. West then hit Garnett twice: the first pass Garnett finger-rolled in, the second (off a Timberwolves throw-away, which West grabbed) he dunked for a 22-5 Celtics lead.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, could not hit a shot no matter how open they were. In the paint, beyond the arc, from the key, it didn’t matter. They shot 24 percent from the field, and after one quarter, things looked as bleak as Minneapolis in mid-winter.
The Celtics shot just 33 percent in the second and third quarter, blowing what at one point in the second was a 25-point lead. And with every bad shot they took, the Timberwolves became more confident, more aggressive. Minnesota blocked 10 Boston shots in Sunday’s game, and out-rebounded the Celtics 49-42. They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds.
Every time there was a loose ball or bad rebound, there would be two or three Timberwolves scrambling for it. The Timberwolves were led by power forward Michael Beasley (28 points, 10 rebounds) and starting and reserve centers Darko Milicic (15 points, nine rebounds) and Anthony Tolliver (16 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks).
The Timberwolves’s performance was beyond out-of-character. Beasley has always been known as a defensive liability, but he came up with a steal and three blocks. Milicic has always been known as the most overrated player of all time, but he shot 60 percent Sunday while scrambling for every 50-50 ball, successfully using his body to box-out Celtics centers and power forwards.
The Timberwolves outscored the Celtics 30-28 in the paint.
There was one period in the third where it looked as if the Celtics would reassert themselves. Krstic and Pierce combined to dunk three consecutive possessions for a six-point mini-run that pushed the Celtics lead back to 14 at 55-41. But the Timberwolves responded with a 13-0 run to climb right back into the game.
The Celtics lead was down to 13 at halftime, and just two after three. And that two-point lead was only possible because Carlos Arroyo drew a lucky foul as time expired and drained both free-throws. They were Arroyo’s only two points of the game.
Paul Pierce’s Fourth-Quarter Magic
After Milicic gave the Timberwolves a 70-68 lead – Minnesota’s first lead of the game – with just over eight minutes left in the fourth, Pierce took it upon himself to will the Celtics to victory, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter. He drained a three-pointer off a Garnett offensive rebound to reclaim the lead, then retook the lead again on a classic driving layup that got him to the foul line for the three-point play. A 20-foot jumper with 2:58 left in the game extended the Celtics lead to 77-73.
Pierce later drained two free-throws after West grabbed a key offensive rebound with 28 seconds left in the game. Now down 83-78, Minnesota called timeout and advanced the ball to mid-court. But Pierce’s strong defense on the inbound pass forced Beasley to throw it away, and Glen Davis grabbed it.
Davis missed his two free-throw attempts, but Garnett’s offensive rebound put Allen on the free-throw line. Allen sank them both for the 85-78 lead.
Of the Celtics 21 fourth-quarter points, only two were scored by anyone other than the Big Three. Pierce finished the game with a team-high 23 points to go with his seven rebounds, Garnett finished the game with 13 points and 13 rebounds, for his 25th double-double this season. Allen and Krstic each chipped in with 11.
In an adequate spot-start, West scored eight points with three rebounds, five assists and two steals. He only turned the ball over once while leading a squad that still won the assists battle, 18-16.
On the bench, Davis scored eight points and grabbed six boards while playing 35 minutes. In the third, he showed good poise by recovering his own shot after Tolliver blocked it, then finding Jeff Green (nine points of on 4-5 shooting) in the corner for an open three-pointer with the shot-clock winding down for a 60-54 Celtics lead.
On the Celtics’ next possession, Davis made a nice spin move along the baseline before laying it in.