Normally, I start writing my recaps at halftime. With 3:46 left in the first half, I figured that I’d have a ton of positive things to say as the Boston Celtics led 50-41. They finished the half down 56-54, which illustrates how volatile tonight’s game was against the Minnesota Timberwolves. While some questions still remain after a disastrous-so-far December, they were able to pull out the 121-109 win tonight behind a Jaylen Brown (36 points and 7 rebounds) fourth-quarter masterpiece and another MVP performance from Jayson Tatum (30 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists).
After missing the last game with a non-COVID illness, Marcus Smart (10 assists) came in and was an instant burst of energy. The box score won’t reflect it as well as the eye test did, but Smart’s pace and space (he was the only Celtic to make a three over the team’s first 12 attempts) improved Boston’s prospects dramatically. After looking like the team like we loved and trusted over the first 25 games in the first few minutes, the Celtics quickly reverted to multiple turnovers and just terrible shot making for large chunks of the game. Joe Mazzulla has a lot to figure out when it comes to figuring out the rotations.
For the Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns continued to miss time with his calf injury, leaving Anthony Edwards (30 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks), Rudy Gobert (8 points, 12 rebounds and 0 blocks) and D’Angelo Russell (21 points, 11 assists) to pick up the slack. Minnesota’s backcourt put a lot of pressure on Boston all night, begging the question of when Boston’s perimeter defense will improve. Naz Reid had a big impact off the bench, posting 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He immediately injected Minnesota’s lineup with energy, punishing Boston with his shooting and effort on the boards.
In the second half, Derrick White (18 points) finally started to get it going with some hard drives to the rim. The Celtics need to retain White’s barber at all costs if a fresh cut is all it takes. White’s aggression helped out big time as the Celtics fell behind by as much as 8 points in the third quarter. There were moments tonight when the Celtics looked really good. It’s just a shame we didn’t see more of it. At least we saw enough to get the win!
Boston got a major lift as Tatum was flagrant fouled shooting a 3-pointer at the end of the third. He made all of his freethrows followed by an Al Horford (17 points, 11 rebounds) 3-pointer right after, creating a six-point play for the guys in green. Boston seemed poised to make the same mistake at the end of the third after finally creating separation, but a Horford three at the buzzer put the Celtics on top entering the fourth.
In a lineup that typically struggles, Jaylen Brown put his stamp on the game to start the fourth, and Boston was able to finally create some separation as the Garden crowd erupted with each big play. After that same lineup struggled in the first half, it was a little nerve-wracking watching Joe Mazzulla go back to it. To his credit, Brown really stepped up, posting 23 points in the fourth alone.
Midway through the fourth, the best team in the league returned. This is the team we enjoyed watching the last few months, and hopefully, this version of the team doesn’t go on vacation again.
Boston is back on top of the Eastern Conference with a 23-10 record. They’ll look to maintain that status as the Milwaukee Bucks come to town on Christmas Day at 5:00 p.m. ET.