After a bad loss to the Houston Rockets, the Boston Celtics will enter Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a point to prove. With multiple players working their way through a slump, Boston isn’t the fearsome prospect they were earlier in the basketball calendar, and as such, teams will feel confident in their chances of getting a result.
Still, we know what this Celtics team is capable of. We’ve seen how easily they can dismantle teams when they’re hitting their shots and making smart decisions. However, the Timberwolves aren’t an easy out, so if the Celtics want to snatch a victory in this game, they will need to put in the hard yards.
Here are 3 things the Celtics could do to help position themselves for a victory.
Take advantage of missing players
As of 11:30 am, the Timberwolves injury report has Karl-Anthony Towns listed as ‘out,’ while Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid are both questionable to participate in the contest. Suddenly, a Timberwolves team that is built around its size and rim protection looks rather small and susceptible to being attacked off the dribble.
Should Minnesota head into the game against Boston without their primary three big men, then the Celtics would be foolish not to take advantage of that by pressuring the rim to force some defensive collapses. After all, we’ve seen how Boston rides the wave of shot variance, much to most of our dismay.
This feels like another game where Jaylen Brown could be a potent offensive weapon. And with a bit of luck, Jayson Tatum will look to attack the rack early and often as he bids to put his smoked layup against Houston behind him.
Pressure the ball
Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the NBA when it comes to taking care of the rock, ranking 26th in the NBA with an average of 15.6 turnovers per game. Factor in their missing players, and it would be a smart idea to implement a high pick-up point and revert to the ‘switch everything’ system.
Having a switch 1-through-4 with 5 in drop has been a go-to for Mazzulla of late, but it does remove some ball pressure when defending traditional pick-and-rolls, which is why reverting back makes sense in this contest. If neither Gobert nor Towns are in the rotation, playing drop is simply inviting shooters to get cooking in the mid-range, and quite frankly, Boston has enough switchable defenders to sustain some increased pressure for 48 minutes.
Furthermore, you can always rely on your low help to rotate over and tag the roll man or eradicate a passing lane, especially against a team that is prone to making poor passing decisions.
Play with pace
The Celtics boast two of the best three-level-scoring wings in the entire league. Asking them to make a living from deep when they’re capable of so much more seems borderline criminal. Against a Timberwolves team that’s potentially without its starting frontcourt, ripping and running could be a solid strategy to get points up on the board in a hurry.
If you, like me, are worried about the team’s shot selection or the perimeter defense's ability to contain Anthony Edwards, then having the Celtics go back to transition-based offense could be the key. Because let's face it, Boston is at its best when they’re creating a rhythm from interior shots before they evolve their offense to involve drive-and-kick or perimeter-based screening actions.
Overall, though, I would really like to see the Celtics get out to an early lead, maintain that lead, and have the starters sitting by mid-way through the fourth quarter at the latest. I know, I know, that’s highly unlikely given the Celtics' current funk, but I’m forever the optimist.
We’re not at the point where Wednesday’s game is a must-win, nor should we be manning the panic stations. However, the Celtics’ can’t afford to let their lackadaisical approach to games become their new normal, especially against a team like Minnesota, who have made big moves this season and are fighting to prove those decisions to be correct.
Hopefully, we’re also not at the point where another loss leads to a player’s only meeting, but we’re probably not too far away from that, not because of wins or losses, but rather, because right now, this Celtics team looks a million miles away from the one that went to the NBA Finals last season.