Friday, January 25
7:30 PM ET
TD BankNorth Garden
Ah, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Boston Celtics East vs. Boston Celtics West. After completing two significant trades with Minnesota over the coarse of the past two years, including "the big one" that landed the C’s Kevin Garnett this past July, the Minnesota Timberwolves give the Boston faithful numerous flashbacks of the previous struggles that are no more. Of Minnesota’s 15-man roster, seven players were Celtics at one point, and they’ve even got former Boston College star Craig Smith coming off the bench. To top it all off, of course, the man running the show in "Minny" is Celtic great Kevin McHale, who won three NBA championships as a player with the green.
Let’s take a moment to check up on our old friends lost in July’s blockbuster trade, shall we?
When McHale decided that it was time to trade "The Big Ticket," Kevin Garnett, it was clear that the Wolves were ready for a full-fledged youth movement. In return for Garnett, they received a package from the C’s consisting of Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, the $11.6 million expiring contract of Theo Ratliff, and two future first round draft picks (one of which was formerly theirs, traded to Boston in 2006, via the Wally Szczerbiak deal). The most important player in the deal for Minnesota was the man that over 70% of Boston.com voters felt should not have been traded last summer, even for Kevin Garnett. In short, they were wrong and they don’t feel an ounce of regret to this day, but "Big Al" is going to make sure they remember what they’re missing. With his 21.8 PPG and 12.1 RPG averages, the fourth-year stud is currently one of five NBA players averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. His company is Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, Carlos Boozer, and Antawn Jamison – not too shabby. Jefferson is still having difficulty on the defensive end and is being forced into playing center out west with Theo Ratliff inching his way back into the lineup, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is one of the best low-post scorers in today’s game and has many All-Star appearances in his future.
Another guy that is missed in the Boston area, both on and off the court, is Ryan Gomes. The former Providence college star has started in 33 of Minnesota’s 41 games, averaging just over 11 points and five rebounds per contest, and has played exceptional basketball as of late. In his last 10 games, he has held averages of 17.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, and recently had a career night in a win in Golden State – 35 points and 11 rebounds. Despite a relatively slow start to the season with his shooting, Gomes may be the only supporting player in Minnesota that represents any form of solidity.
Last year’s slam dunk champion Gerald Green, who is set to defend his title next month, has been stuck on the pine all season long. The former 18th overall pick came into the league with all the hype in the world, as he drew many comparisons to Tracy McGrady and amazed people with his shooting touch and jaw-dropping athletic ability. However, "G-Money" has not been able to put it all together. The third-year swingman is turning 22 years old later this month, but is struggling to find a spot in the rotation on the very worst team in the NBA (7-34). One would hope that he is able to turn into one of those late-bloomers, such as Chauncey Billups, but one also would not gamble his wallet on that type of assumption.
There has been a surprise, however. Point guard Sebastian Telfair has been written off as a complete bust by many critics, especially in New England, but he has really come along this year in Minnesota. Telfair spent the entire summer out in Las Vegas working with coaches and focusing solely on basketball, in attempt to clean up his reputation and perhaps save his professional career. The hard work looks as though it has slowly but surely paid off. The former turnover prone, poor decision-making guard has transformed himself to one of the better distributors in the western conference. He currently sits at 18th in the NBA in assists per game (5.9), but it also 14th in assists-per-turnover (2.99). In addition, for the first time in his four-year career, he is shooting above 40% from the field. "Bassy" still has plenty of doubters, but he also has a heck of a lot more people saying "hey, maybe he can play" as well.
Once again, this Minnesota team currently stands as the worst team in the NBA with a 7-34 record, but they are not to be taken lightly. They have won their last two games in Golden State and against Phoenix, who they’ve beaten twice this season. They look as though they are building some confidence, and an emotional-charged meeting like this one can never be taken for granted. On paper, it’s not crazy to anticipate a 25-point victory at the Garden tonight, but it also isn’t crazy to say "the C’s need to come to play."
C Al Jefferson / Kendrick Perkins
PF Ryan Gomes / Kevin Garnett
SF Rashad McCants / Paul Pierce
SG Marko Jaric / Ray Allen
PG Sebastian Telfair / Rajon Rondo
Key Matchup: Al Jefferson vs. Kevin Garnett
The clear-cut key matchup tonight is the battle between the obvious centerpieces to "the trade" for both clubs, Al Jefferson and the one and only Kevin Garnett. Our old friend "Big Al" may be putting up better-looking numbers (hovering around 21 PPG and 12 RPG), but Garnett unquestionably has a much greater impact on the game, especially on the defensive end. These two may not be matched up against one another for the whole game, but expect to see some highly anticipated competitiveness from Boston’s potential savior and the new kid on the block in Minnesota.
Celtics X-Factor: Kendrick Perkins
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a very small basketball team, especially since Theo Ratliff (another old friend) is currently recovering from minor knee surgery. Al Jefferson, a good friend of Kendrick Perkins, is the only real size Randy Wittman has in the regular rotation. Perk needs to show "these midgets," as Charles Barkley would say, who’s boss and be a factor in the paint.
MIN – Randy Foye (recovering from stress reaction in left knee)
MIN – Theo Ratliff (recovering from right knee surgery)
BOS – James Posey (sore right index finger – day-to-day)
Celtics Keys to the Game
- Own the Boards
- Build Energy Off the Environment
- Attack Their Defense (or lack thereof)
- Close Out Quarters