Midway through his postgame press conference, head coach Joe Mazzulla jokingly asked between questions, “no one is going to ask about the three-pointers and how bad we shot? The other stuff overshadowed it?”
It was an amusing paradigm shift of what’s been the Celtics’ narrative during their 1-5 stretch and until Friday night’s 121-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, winless homestand.
No, the Celtics didn’t shoot themselves out of their slump, hitting just 13-of-46 from behind the arc. However, they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot either and lose to an under-.500 team again. Instead, Boston won ugly. After spending a quarter of the regular season as one of the league’s hottest shooting teams, they found a way to win a game in the trenches.
“We were aggressive. We took the best shot, we spaced, and we drove the ball. We did a great job making the right play at the rim, whether it was the layup or the kick outs. We got both tonight,” Mazzulla said after the Celtics scored 58 points in the paint.
The Celtics rank near the bottom of the league in many of those margin stats. They’re 23rd in offensive rebounds and 25th in offensive rebounding rate; against Minnesota, they grabbed twenty for 20 second chance points without Robert Williams. They’re 25th in generating turnovers; the Timberwolves coughed it up 17 times to the tune of 26 points. Boston scores just 14.7 points per game in transition; they ran up 24 points on fast breaks as part of two comebacks in the second and third quarters.
Along with their improving defense — dropping the defensive rating from 114.5 in October to 111.6 in November to 107.0 in December — Boston has started to figure out ways as their shooting finds its level. For Jaylen Brown, it was a get well game and another one of those microcosm examples of what hopefully will grow team-wide.
After a miserable three quarters, Brown exploded in the fourth with 23 points and finished with 36.
“The first three quarters was, you know, was whatever, and then [the] fourth quarter, just stayed with it, just mentality,” Brown said. “Faith, consistency, hard work pays off. And I was able to find some rhythm and some shots were able to go down.”
Along with Brown, Derrick White got off the schneid with 18 points with three assists and two blocks. Al Horford hit five threes en route to a 17 & 11 double-double.
Mazzulla joked after the game that the team is going to be “sucky” sometimes. There will be 3-4 minute stretches when the Celtics will be awful. They’ll play well and lose and they’ll play awful and win. That’s the nature of the game.
Boston did find other ways to win on Friday despite hitting just 28% from 3, but maybe the biggest points they scored weren’t off an offensive rebound or at the free throw line; maybe the biggest point they made to themselves was to continue to persevere. So, the Celtics haven't exactly flipped the switch just yet, but the lights are flickering on and off just in time for a Christmas Day showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks.