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Parquet plays: Celtics defense crumbles in 4th quarter against Timberwolves

It’s been a season-defining trend for Boston.

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Despite getting outscored by five points in the third quarter, the Celtics still clung to a five-point lead heading into the final frame. The defense had slipped a bit after halftime, but they still had enough footing to close out the game. Unfortunately, the slide continued and Boston got buried under an avalanche of threes in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves followed up their 29-point 3rd quarter with a 34-point 4th, ignited by 63% shooting that included 5-for-6 from behind the arc. This wasn’t the KAT-DAR-Ant Edwards TWolves that’s made some noise in the Western Conference either. Like Boston, Minnesota has been ravaged by COVID protocols over the last weeks, too. Former Celtic Greg Monroe cut up Boston’s D with six assists after signing with the team earlier in the day. Jaylen Nowell who normally averages 11 minutes a night caught fire, hitting 6 of 9 three-pointers. Nathan Knight, an undrafted rookie, dropped 20.

The Celtics, on the other hand, returned a pair of their better defenders in Al Horford and Grant Williams and still had Romeo Langford and Jaylen Brown to guard the wings. But after holding Minnesota to just 45 points in the first 24 minutes, the wheels fell off.

In his postgame presser, head coach Ime Udoka stressed Boston’s lack of focus off the ball. It’s mental mistakes like the one Romeo Langford makes here that added fuel to an already burning house. Poor anticipation and sloppy footwork create an easy driving lane for Nowell to throw down a monster dunk for the lead and ignite the Target Center faithful.

More off ball misery here. You could forgive Horford for dropping down in to the paint with Monroe backing down Payton Pritchard, but Langford gets sucked in with Nowell’s paint touch, leaving Knight alone in the corner for a wide open 3.

This was easily the worst communication of the night. You can hear Williams call out to Romeo, “flare! Flare! Flare!” with a back screen coming on Langford’s blind side. Grant picks the wrong poison and gives up another easy dunk to Jaden McDaniels.

“(We were) undisciplined defensively in a lot of ways — off-ball switching, we got carved up there. It’s something that we’ve been doing decent-to-well all year. Lack of communication there, so defensively, that hurt.”

Udoka specifically called out Robert Williams for his undisciplined play against Minnesota. Williams picked up his fifth personal foul with over two minutes to go in the third quarter. “It was undisciplined. Leaving your feet on a guy who we want to take jumpers is bad defense,” Udoka said. “Then to get your fifth foul that early because you are reaching... It’s a lack of focus and attention to detail as to who you are guarding.”

Late in 4th quarter and needing a stop, Williams again gambles on a steal that creates a daisy chain of good Wolves ball movement to another unguarded corner 3.

As Udoka noted, after a rough start to open the season learning their “switch everything” scheme, the Celtics have been good defensively. However, nights like these that were once considered anomalies are quickly becoming the norm. What’s been consistent has been the inconsistency.