Final, Celtics 101-97: That’ll do it. A team that trounced the Celtics by 18 points a month ago now walks out of TD Garden losing to one of the most surprisingly competitive squads in the NBA.
Jared Sullinger was huge in the fourth quarter with 15 points and six rebounds in that frame alone, giving him 24 and 11 for the game. But Jeff Green was equally huge for the Celtics (12-14), coming up with what might have been the game-winning block on a would-be Nikola Pekovic dunk and also grabbing numerous clutch rebounds.
Kevin Love had a massive 27 points and 14 rebounds for Minnesota (12-13), but it came with a lot of effort. He went just 9-for-26 from the field and 2-for-11 from downtown.
Avery Bradley had 19 points and a bunch of plays that won’t show up on the stat sheet, while Jordan Crawford overcame some wildness in the middle quarters to finish with 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting.
Fourth quarter, :14, Celtics 98-94: The Wolves can’t believe it, but they are probably going to lose this game. Pekovic got what looked like a clear look at a dunk out of the inbounds play, but Green came up with a block to turn him away. Sullinger converts one of two free throws to give Boston some extra breathing room.
Fourth quarter, :17.9, Celtics 97-94: It took a defensive stand — or two, or three, or four — but the Celtics stood up and lead by three on a pair of Sullinger free throws.
Crawford had a huge brain cramp when the Celtics forced a stop but Crawford, taking his time bringing the ball up the floor, failed to get it across halfcourt within eight seconds. Then Green was forced into a tough shot at the end of the shot clock due to a poor possession.
Fortunately for the Celtics, the Wolves have been just as sloppy — but they’ll have at least one more shot to make up for it.
Fourth quarter, 3:58, Celtics 90-89: Tempers are starting to flare here at the Garden. Love scored a one-handed putback over Sullinger, then Sullinger took Love to the block for a right-handed hook shot.
On Minnesota’s next possession, Sullinger and Mbah a Moute got tangled up going for a rebound and Mbah a Moute went down clutching his knee, although he walked off the court under his own power.
Sullinger, to his disbelief, was whistled for a foul. The crowd was with him, as you would expect.
Fourth quarter, 6:14, Celtics 84-84: The power of hustle has worn off. Wallace was fouled taking a three but missed two of his three foul shots. Then Olynyk was called for an illegal screen and now Phil Pressey misses a pull-up jump shot without running through any offensive cycle.
And a layup by Gorgui Dieng pulls the Wolves even.
Fourth quarter, 7:48, Celtics 81-78: Kelly Olynyk hasn’t scored since the first half, but he’s making plays to keep the Celtics in the lead.
Olynyk has gone into the stands to save loose balls twice in the last few minutes. Both times, Lee was there to nab the wild pass.
The most recent ended with a corner three by Gerald Wallace to give the Celtics a three-point lead. Let’s see if Stevens again goes with his “hot hand” approach and stays with a bench unit that is all over the floor.
End of third quarter, Celtics 74-69: Jordan Crawford had an incredibly efficient first half. Unfortunately for the Celtics, he looks determined to make up for it in the second half.
Crawford was 3-for-5 from the field for six points and had just one turnover in the first half. He went 2-for-5 in the third quarter, which might only look one shot worse, but it was the way he went 2-for-5 that was different. He took three ill-advised shots just when the Celtics got some momentum going, including an airball fallaway from the baseline.
The Celtics have hustled their way into the lead and Humphries continues to do a solid defensive job on Love, but their overall shot selection will have to stay tight to hold this lead to the end.
Third quarter, 5:35, Wolves 62-59: The Wolves have pushed into the lead by going back to their bread and butter up front.
Pekovic, who had four points at halftime, has seven already in the third quarter and Love has hit two of his first four shots, including a three, to begin the second half.
The Wolves’ lead could be even bigger if Bradley hadn’t sprinted from the opposite corner at the other end of the court to knock the ball away from Pekovic just before the rumbling big man got a fastbreak layup.
Halftime, Celtics 51-50: It hasn’t been easy, but the Celtics have bottled up Love for the most part. He has 11 points but is just 3-for-11 from the field. They’ve even played good defense from the foul line, where he is 5-for-8.
All this has come at a cost, though. Bass has done a workmanlike job defensively, but he’s also picked up three fouls and is 0-for-3 from the field. Humphries also picked up two fouls in just seven minutes despite some pretty good defense on Love.
Bradley has cooled down after his fast start. He is stuck on 10 points, the same number he had at the end of the first quarter, although that’s still good for the team high. Kelly Olynyk, in his second game back since spraining his ankle, has seven points.
Bottom line, the Celtics are getting outworked, especially on the offensive glass. The Wolves have 10 offensive rebounds, including three by Dante Cunningham. The Celtics have six offensive boards as a team. That’s not good for the Celtics, obviously, but it is notable that they are ahead of a supposedly better team that is outworking them. That’s not something we expected to be able to say.
Second quarter, 2:45, Wolves 45-44: Beware the outlet pass.
The Wolves have arguably the league’s best outlet-passing big man in Love, but his skill must be contagious. After a defensive rebound by Luc Mbah a Moute, who has hit his first three shots, J.J. Barea got the ball and threw it ahead to Alexey Shved for the go-ahead layup.
The Wolves haven’t led — well, until now — and they’ve outscored the Celtics 24-15 in the quarter.
Second quarter, 5:08, Celtics 40-38: The Celtics can’t blame officiating for their stagnant offense. Even though Vitor Faverani has a running hook shot and Courtney Lee has scored four points off pure aggression plays, the Celtics have stopped running any motion sets. They’ve been dribbling one-on-one or posting up while the other four players stand by and watch.
Stevens clearly can’t like this look, nor can he like the Wolves narrowing the gap to two points.
Second quarter, 8:24, Celtics 32-26: Bill Kennedy and Eddie Rush were never among former Celtics coach Doc Rivers’ favorite officials. They probably aren’t high on Stevens’ list right now, either.
The Celtics have been whistled for 11 fouls to the Wolves’ six and the Wolves have attempted 14 free throws — the Celtics just three.
Mostly, that disparity is due to the Wolves’ superior size, but Kennedy has always been among the NBA’s most, um, creative referees. Even with that disparity, the Celtics still hold the lead.
End of first quarter, Celtics 29-21: Kevin Love really is an MVP-caliber player. We swear.
Love comes into every city hyped up, and Stevens went so far as to call Love a “top-five” player in pregame. So far, Bass and Kris Humphries have Love’s number. He’s just 2-for-8 from the field and two of his six points have come at the foul line.
In fairness to Love, he’s hampered on the blocky by Ricky Rubio’s inability to put the ball in the hoop. Rubio is one of the league’s most thrilling ballhandlers, but he shoots just 37 percent from the floor for the season and he’s 1-for-6 tonight with three missed layups. That makes it fairly simple to collapse on Love when he and Rubio are on the same side of the court.
It’s a testament to Adelman that the Wolves seldom let that happen and that Love is still able to be effective.
First quarter, 6:15, Celtics 16-7: Avery Bradley, professional scorer, has led the way as the Celtics are out-running and out-gunning the run-and-gun Wolves.
Bradley hit the first three shots of the game as the Celtics burst out to a quick 6-0 lead. They’ve cooled off, but they’re still comfortable ahead thanks to Brandon Bass’ defense, Jared Sullinger’s work on the block and Jeff Green’s corner 3-point shooting, which gave the Celtics a nine-point edge and brought a time-out call from Minny head coach Rick Adelman.
6:13 p.m.: Kris Humphries is back, just one game after Kelly Olynyk made his return after missing 10 games with a sprained ankle. This time it looks like Humphries’ bruised right knee won’t keep him off the court for more than two games.
Humphries and Olynyk being back brings back the logjam up front, where Celtics coach Brad Stevens had been struggling to find playing time for five deserving big men. Olynyk’s absence eased the issue for a while, but Stevens now has to once again parcel out minutes at center and power forward to Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Vitor Faverani, Humphries and Olynyk.
“It’s not necessarily just Humphries and Olynyk,” Stevens said during his pregame media availability. “It’s a decision we’ll have to make. It may be game to game. It may be matchup to matchup. It may be half to half. The good news is, we’ve got five guys in the frontcourt who can really do their jobs to help our team win or help our team do well.”
Sullinger has been the best offensive player of the bunch, the team’s best rebounder and the team’s best all-around player. Bass has probably been the best defender of the group, and Faverani and Humphries each contributed to wins during the two weeks Olynyk missed. The rookie now not only has to work to get healthy, he also has to work his way back up the depth chart against four teammates who have played well enough to deserve more playing time.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: If the Celtics have managed to exceed expectations despite not being very good, the Timberwolves have managed to disappoint despite not being all that bad.
The division-leading Celtics (11-14) continue their homestand by welcoming the Wolves (12-12) for their only visit to Boston this season. Led by Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, the Wolves began the year with lofty goals of not just competing for a playoff spot but making some noise in April and May as well. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Minnesota started out 5-2 but is just 7-12 since, including a stretch from late November to early December in which it lost seven of nine. The Celtics, by contrast, have won four of their last six after Friday’s come-from-behind win over the Knicks. Of course, the Wolves would also be in first place if they were in the Atlantic Division, as the Celtics are, so everything is relative.
Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.