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Losing to stifling Timberwolves defense will make Celtics offense stronger

Minnesota locked in against the Celtics on Monday, and all Boston can do is learn from it.

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

“That was awesome,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla after the Boston Celtics’ first loss of the season. “What a game. That was sick.”

Boston was outdueled by the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime on Monday night, falling 114-109. Anthony Edwards steamrolled the Celtics, pouring in 38 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists.

But the more noteworthy storyline for Minnesota, and by proxy, Boston, came on the other end of the court. The Celtics entered the game with the best offensive rating in the league, but the Timberwolves completely stifled them.

Shooting 39.1% from the field and 28.2% from distance, the fact that the Celtics even took the game to overtime was a miracle. Minnesota managed to completely clog the lane while simultaneously limiting the Celtics’ ability to work out of mismatches - their primary source of offense this year.

Jaden McDaniels played a masterful game on Jayson Tatum. He fought through screens, denied Tatum the ball, and limited his ability to run the Celtics’ offense. The same can be said for Edwards, who checked Jaylen Brown, and Rudy Gobert, who did an upstanding job of limiting Kristaps Porzingis’ effectiveness down low.

With Derrick White still out after the birth of his second child, Jrue Holiday welcomed an expanded offensive role, but he shot just 4-for-16 from the floor and 0-for-4 from deep.

“Our opponents are always going to bring the best out of us,” Mazzulla said. “I thought we competed at a high level. Their defensive toughness outmatched our offensive toughness at times.”

A Tatum-led flurry to begin the fourth quarter helped the Celtics drag the game to overtime, but once they got there, everything slowed back down. The Timberwolves were comfortable allowing McDaniels and Edwards to check Tatum and Brown one-on-one, respectively, which restrained the Celtics’ effectiveness on the offensive end.

The Celtics shot 2-for-7 in overtime, including 0-for-3 from behind the three-point arc.

Boston’s inability to find offense was compounded by turnovers, as they ended the night with 16 as a team, including six from Tatum alone.

“Just had way too many turnovers,” Tatum said with a laugh. “I gotta do better. We all gotta do better.”

Tatum’s upbeat expression and Mazzulla’s positivity make one fact clear: The Celtics are treating this game as a learning experience.

Rather than calling timeouts and getting a play arranged, Mazzulla let the Celtics run the offense themselves down the stretch. With their new-look group in place, he seemingly prioritized a player-first learning experience over potential organization.

Tatum, who still managed to shoot 12-for-22 on the night, had some slip-ups when handling the ball. McDaniels restricted his offensive control, but now he has something to look back on should this issue rear its head in another matchup. He can take the loss, learn from it, and grow.

An 82-0 season was never in the cards. It never is. And for the Celtics, losing to a team that was locked in on the defensive end should only make their offense stronger.

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