The Celtics visit the Minnesota Timberwolves for the first of 2 games this season. They will face each other again on March 27 in Boston. This is the Celtics second game of a 2 game road trip. They will begin a 4 game home stand on Wednesday when they face the LA Clippers. The Wolves last played on Thursday, December 23 and so they should be well rested. The Celtics last played on Saturday and so along with being short handed, will not be as rested as the Timberwolves.
The Celtics are 9th in the East and are coming off a loss on Christmas Day. They are 7-11 on the road and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 5-7 against Western Conference teams. The Timberwolves are 9th in the West and are coming off 2 straight losses. They are 9-9 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 4-6 against Eastern Conference teams. The Celtics are 41-20 all time against the Timberwolves and 19-12 when playing in Minnesota.
The Celtics won the series last season 2-0. The Timberwolves have lost the last 9 games against the Celtics. They have lost the last 5 games played in Minnesota and they have lost the last 14 games played in Boston. Their last win over the Celtics in Minnesota was on February 22, 2016. The Timberwolves are playing in the first of back to back games. They are 2-1 so far this season in the first of back to back games.
Both teams have been playing short handed and will still be short handed once again in this game. For the Celtics, they are getting a couple of players back. Al Horford and Sam Hauser are both probable for this game. Grant Williams is questionable. Seven players are still out due to the league’s health and safety protocols including Justin Jackson, Aaron Nesmith, Bruno Fernando, CJ Miles, Enes Freedom, Josh Richardson, and Dennis Schroder.
Marcus Smart was questionable with a hip injury for Saturday’s game but he played 40 minutes in that game. He is questionable once again for this game but with a hand laceration that he injured in the Bucks game. Romeo Langford was questionable for Saturday’s game as well with a sore Achilles and he also played. He is not on the injury list for this game and will likely get the start in Tatum’s place. Al Horford was cleared from the protocols before Saturday’s game but he was held out until he could work on his conditioning. I expect him to return to the starting lineup.
The Timberwolves have 7 players listed as out due to health and safety protocols. Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, McKinley Wright IV, Jarred Vanderbilt, Taurean Prince, Anthony Edwards and Naz Reid are all listed as out due to covid. Josh Okogie and Patrick Beverley are listed as a game time decision as they are just coming out of quarantine. Both Beverley and Okogie returned to practice on Sunday and are questionable due to conditioning.
I’ve included a makeshift starting lineup for the Timberwolves but I have no idea who will actually get the start. If Patrick Beverley, who is a game time decision, can play, he will likely be back in the starting lineup. If he can’t play, it will likely be Leandro Balmaro who gets another start at the point. With their starting and back up centers out, I have no clue who they will start at center. I’ll guess Nathan Knight. They’ll likely be playing a lot of small ball.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Romeo Langford
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Grant Williams (covid) questionable
Marcus Smart (hand) questionable
Justin Jackson (covid) out
Aaron Nesmith (covid) out
Bruno Fernando (covid) out
CJ Miles (covid) out
Enes Freedom (covid) out
Josh Richardson (covid) out
Dennis Schroder (covid) out
Probable Timberwolves Starters
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: Malik Beasley
SF: Jake Layman
PF: Jaden McDaniels
C: Nathan Knight
McKinley Wright IV (covid) out
Jarred Vanderbilt (covid) out
D’Angelo Russell (covid) out
Karl-Anthony Towns (covid) out
Taurean Prince (covid) out
Anthony Edwards (covid) out
Naz Reid (covid) out
Josh Okogie (covid) game time decision
Patrick Beverley (covid) game time decision
McKinley Wright IV
Marcus Smart vs Patrick Beverley
This should be an interesting match up between two tough and gritty defensive players. Beverley is averaging 8.7 points, 4.3 rebounds 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 41.6% from the field and 37.9% from beyond the arc. Both of these players have made their careers on doing all the little things to help their team win. Beverly has a reputation for playing somewhat dirty so the Celtics need to be careful with him on the court. If Beverley isn’t able to play, Leandro Bolmaro will likely get the start in his place. If Smart can’t play, it will probably be Payton Pritchard starting.
Romeo Langford vs Malik Beasley
Beasley is averaging 11.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He is shooting 36.8% from the field and 34.8% from beyond the arc. Romeo Langford has been playing well on both ends of the court in recent games and I expect him to get the start in place of Tatum.
Robert Williams III vs Nathan Knight
The Timberwolves will be playing a lot of small ball with their starting and back up centers both out. They could start either Nathan Knight or Chris Silva or go even smaller but in any case, Robert Williams should have an advantage in the paint and on the boards.
Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is the key to winning every game. The Timberwolves average 108.8 points per game while the Celtics average 108.5 points per game. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 107.6 (10th) while the Wolves have a defensive rating of 108.1 (11th). The Celtics have got to play tough team defense if they hope to get a win in this game.
Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 45.6 rebounds per game to 45.1 rebounds per game for the Wolves. The Wolves are 2nd in the league with 15.9 second chance points per game and so the Celtics will need to crash the boards to keep the Wolves from getting extra possessions and second chance points. Rebounding is effort and it seems that sometimes the Celtics just don’t work hard enough. The Celtics need to put in extra effort to crash the boards and beat the Wolves to the rebounds and limit their second chance points.
Take Care of the Ball - The Wolves are first in the league with 19.9 points per game off turnovers. The Celtics have times when they seem to lose focus and they get slopping and turn the ball over too much and they simply can’t do that against the Wolves. The Celtics need to take care of the ball and focus on making good passes because if they get sloppy, the Wolves will certainly make them pay.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics too many times have started off slowly and then had to dig themselves out of an early hole, or else they start strong and get a big lead and then let the opponent back into the game and have to fight right up until the end and often lose games they have had a big lead in. They need to get off to a strong start and play hard right up until the final buzzer. They can’t let the Wolves outwork them for any period of time. They have to figure out how to hold a lead and pull out a win.
Playing Shorthanded - Both teams are playing short handed due to players in the health and safety protocols. The Celtics have 8 players out due to covid while the Timberwolves have 7 players out. For once, it seems as though the Celtics will have an advantage in that 3 or 4 of their regular starters should be available along with a couple of key subs while the Timberwolves will be missing at least 2 key starters and maybe more. Each player has to be ready to step up and give an extra effort.
Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be an x-factor. Each officiating crew calls the game differently. Some refs call it tight and constantly call fouls while others let them play with few fouls called. The Celtics need to adjust to how the refs are calling the game and not allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on playing the game. The Celtics can’t afford to allow the other team to go on offense while players are hanging back and complaining about calls.