Celtics-Timberwolves Live: Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio Tear Apart Defense as Boston Loses 110-100

Ricky RubioFinal, Wolves 110-100:¬†Sometimes the score is not indicative of the actual game. Although the Celtics only lost by 10, they never really felt that close. They simply had no answer for Nikola Pekovic inside or Ricky Rubio leading Minnesota’s offense, and the result was a relatively drama-free second straight loss.

Pekovic stalked a career high in scoring before falling a basket short with 29 points. Rubio wrapped up a quietly impressive all-around game of nine points, 11 assists and only two turnovers as the Wolves earned a split in the two-game season series.

Avery Bradley led six Celtics in double figures with 19 points and the Celtics shot 52 percent from the field, but the offensive end was not the issue for them. Rather, their problems lied in a porous defense and a lack of focus with the ball. They committed more than twice as many turnovers than the Wolves, 17-9, and gave up 62 points in the paint.

Fourth quarter, 3:36, Wolves 102-91: The best thing that can be said right now for the Celtics defense is that Pekovic might not reach his new scoring high because there is no longer any reason for him to be on the court.

Pekovic is at 27 points, just four shy of tying his career high, but the Wolves could probably safely sit him now and not worry too much. Bradley has 19 points to lead the Celtics, but his second-highest scoring total of the season is useless if the Celtics do not stop turning the ball over or start clamping down defensively.

Fourth quarter, 7:45, Wolves 96-82: Players can sort of fake it on offense. There is no faking it on defense.

Williams, Crawford and Randolph are not completely comfortable in the Celtics’ offense, but they make up for it with playmaking, shooting and hustle, respectively. On defense, there is no making up for bad rotations or a lack of attention away from the ball. The Wolves, like any good Rick Adelman-coached team, are exploiting every weakness in Boston’s defense and look mighty comfortable with building this lead.

Fourth quarter, 10:18, Wolves 89-78: Well, that was fast. A terrible shot by Crawford and some equally terrible defense by Williams helped the Wolves burst back into a double-digit lead, and Rivers is none too happy.

End of third quarter, Wolves 84-78: After all that happened in the first three quarters, it is a minor miracle that the Celtics are within six points heading into the fourth.

The Celtics briefly narrowed the deficit to as little as five points on a three-point play by Terry, who got aggressive toward the end of the quarter. The Celtics shot 11-for-20 from the field in the frame, but they tossed the ball all over the place, committing seven turnovers to ramp up their total for the game to 14.

That carelessness helped the Wolves actually grow their lead by a point in the quarter, despite shooting 8-for-20 and getting beaten on the glass 11-4, and on the offensive glass 4-1.

Third quarter, 6:26, Wolves 74-62: For a while, the Wolves seemed like they might let this motley crew of Celtics to stick around. Now it looks like the Wolves will leave the Celtics in their dust.

The Wolves opened the second half by outscoring the Celtics by seven points of the first 5:34, extending their lead to a game-high dozen. Pekovic keeps piling up the points, but now he has help. Kirilenko, who opened the game with a three but scored just five more points the rest of the first half, has seven points already here in the second half.

Halftime, Wolves 57-52: As bad as the Celtics have looked, the Wolves are playing such atrocious defense to help them stay in it. Both teams cruise into the break hitting more than half their field goal attempts, and the paint is particularly friendly. Pek is up to a game-high 21 points and the Wolves own a 34-18 points-in-the-paint edge.

Bradley appears to have rediscovered his shot, although the token defense by Minnesota’s guards has a lot to do with that. Bradley is 6-for-8 from the field for 15 points, the only Celtics player with more than seven points.

Still, the Celtics are moving the ball around — nine players have scored for Boston — and they stopped turning it over in the latter half of the second quarter. This game is not entirely out of hand for them thanks to that.

Second quarter, 5:23, Wolves 39-36: Rivers had better be nice to the refs in this game, because they just helped him out. The refs looked at the video during the break and ruled that a three by Chase Budinger had occurred after the shot clock, so the Celtics are within one possession.

Second quarter, 5:31, Wolves 42-36: Green is doing all he can to help out the Wolves, not that they need his help.

Green turned the ball over on three consecutive plays, helping the otherwise defensively challenged Wolves to build their lead. Pekovic has not scored since the first quarter, but Minnesota has not needed him to. Their outside scorers have picked up the slack.

Second quarter, 8:50, Wolves 33-29: Though their deficit is only four points, the Celtics do not seem to be the team in control of this game. The Wolves have started to find their rhythm from deep, having hit two of their last four 3-point attempts, and they hold the advantage in rebounding, assists and free throw attempts. They simply look more “whole” than the Celtics, even though they are dealing with the significant absence of Kevin Love.

End of first quarter, Wolves 27-25: Pekovic is setting himself up for a career night against the Celtics’ depleted front line. He had 15 points in the first quarter and put both Wilcox and Randolph into early foul trouble with two and three fouls, respectively. Pretty much single-handedly, Pek has given the Wolves a 16-8 advantage of points in the paint.

The Celtics are hanging around despite a small lineup that is not doing so hot in protecting the rim. Jordan Crawford, surprisingly, is the only available backcourt player who has yet to see the court, as the Celtics will need all their guard depth to deal with Rubio, Ridnour and J.J. Barea. For now, holding the Wolves to 0-for-5 shooting from 3-point range is helping the Celtics a lot.

First quarter, 5:04, Wolves 17-13: Nikola Pekovic, who was questionable with a sprained ankle, ended up being healthy enough to start, which meant no early floor time for the Stiemer. Ah, well. The former Celtics center should get plenty of chances to play in the rest of the game.

Both Bradley and Lee are having a heck of a time slowing down Rubio, who has roughly a million turnovers after seven minutes. All right, so he only has four, almost all of which seem to have found Pekovic in the paint. Pek has nine points on 4-for-5 shooting as he and Rubio are clearly targeting Shavlik Randolph, who made a quick appearance off the bench after Wilcox committed two fouls in the first four minutes.

6:51 p.m.: Paul Pierce was never really expected to suit up for the Celtics on Monday, and Sunday’s late-game ankle soreness pretty much assured that. But now there is an extra element to Pierce’s absence in Minnesota.

Pierce left the team after its loss in New York, the team announced, and headed home for “personal reasons.” It was not clear what those reasons were, but we can only hope that everything is OK with Pierce’s family. He will not play, of course.

Kevin Garnett is with the team, but he also is not expected in uniform. The Celtics will have a makeshift starting lineup once again, with Courtney Lee returning to the starting five for the first time since March 22, when he sprained his ankle late in a loss to the Mavericks.

The projected starters appear below.

Celtics
Chris Wilcox
Brandon Bass
Jeff Green
Courtney Lee
Avery Bradley

Timberwolves
Greg Stiemsma
Derrick Williams
Andrei Kirilenko
Luke Ridnour
Ricky Rubio

8 a.m. ET: The Celtics need another injury like they need a hole in the head.

Wait, that was a bad choice of words. At this rate, someone on the Celtics might actually have a hole in the head before long.

Paul Pierce is expected to be sidelined as the shorthanded Celtics (38-35) visit the Timberwolves (26-46), who know a thing or two about debilitating injury trouble. The Wolves, who sit in the cellar of the Northwest Division, have been missing All-Star power forward Kevin Love since early January and sustained lengthy injury absences for Chase Budinger, Ricky Rubio, Andrei Kirilenko and others. Brandon Roy appeared in just five games this season in his failed comeback from retirement, which had been related to supposedly career-ending knee trouble.

The Wolves therefore are unlikely to have much sympathy for the Celtics, who are also expected to be without Kevin Garnett, who is still nursing an inflammed left ankle. Pierce sat out the final 13 minutes of Sunday’s loss in New York with a sore right ankle, and Courtney Lee just returned from a sprained left ankle. It is safe to say the Celtics and ankles in general are not on good terms at the moment.

Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m. ET.

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