Marcus Smart appeared to be a new player Friday night in Boston. With the rest of his Celtics team struggling to shoot above 30 percent, he was picking his spots, working in-between and finishing shots inside the arc. He burst to 7-of-11 shooting to start the night, and finished with 18 points on 8-of-13.
Terry Rozier and Smart emerged behind efficient, completely in-control games. They switched, worked inside and dribbled with poise as the Celts struggled through stretches of inefficient offense and struggled defensively, hashing out 28 free throws. The Celtics escaped with a 91-84 win, behind a 17-3 second half run that established a double-digit lead over Minnesota.
Boston led only 66-65 to start the fourth quarter. Smart said, “we put up enough bricks to build a house tonight,” post-game. But over the final 12 minutes the team worked a unique lineup as Al Horford reeled with a lower body injury and established a rebounding dominance reminiscent of the 16 game win streak.
Aron Baynes finished two shots inside off a pass from Smart and a Kyrie Irving alley-oop to start the final frame. But on the other side Jamal Crawford and Karl-Anthony Towns produced five straight points, part of their dominant shooting nights.
Rozier switched seamlessly onto Taj Gibson in the midst of the early action, and with a tight handle navigated around him into the paint to bury a layup off glass. Smart followed with a layup of his own, making up for two Rozier misses from three but the Celtics established their edge in the game on the boards.
With Horford reeling, getting his leg stretched out on the sideline, Brad Stevens opted to play both Baynes and Daniel Theis together. Theis got trigger-happy from three, but the result was ultimately rebounding dominance for Boston. Theis hauled in his own consecutive missed threes, allowing Irving to reset amongst the scrambling and kick to his right to Rozier to pop a three.
Seconds later, Rozier was clutching his ninth rebound to finish a stop on Crawford. Baynes followed two Irving free throw makes finishing a dump from Theis. Immediately, Smart picked off Crawford, hit two free throws of his own and the Celts had established a 12 point lead over a Timberwolves team that had frustrated them to that point.
To cap a game of massive scoreless streaks, Jayson Tatum broke through two defenders on the wing, unleashed a relentless slam on the rim and sealed the game shut.
Boston’s 56-43 rebound advantaged solidified their possession dominance through the rest of the game. Theis and Baynes grabbed 10 each, Irving and Rozier nine and Brown and Horford with five.
The coaching staff stressed side-to-side passing as a team throughout the game to divert Minnesota’s interior defense, by the end Boston made its biggest mark rebounding up and down the roster, still undefeated winning the battle on the boards (22-0).