It wasn’t the prettiest game, but Boston’s 104-102 win against Minnesota, particularly one Timberwolf in particular, Rudy Gobert, seemed to wake up a Celtics team so far sleepwalking through the final third of the regular season.
Jaylen Brown getting chippy with Gobert after he takes a shot to the face pic.twitter.com/Mt3rjDRyUK— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) March 16, 2023
Midway through the second quarter, Gobert clipped Jaylen Brown with an elbow, dislodging his mask protecting his facial fracture.
“For JB to get into somebody’s face, it had to be something. They let that go. And then he kicked DWhite,” Marcus Smart said. “We just felt like — he wasn’t dirty, he wasn’t trying to — but some of those things, you can control. We just wanted it to be called because we knew it was being called on us, so I thought that that fired us up because we weren’t going to let anybody punk us.”
Fast forward to third quarter. Derrick White gets his hands on Gobert dunk attempt in the paint, but the Minnesota center grabs the offensive board, threw it down, and then proceeded to hang on the rim and swing his legs and feet at White. Strike two. That also resulted in a technical foul on Gobert, but on the ensuing play, Jayson Tatum wanted to send a clear message.
“I definitely didn’t appreciate him doing that to DWhite,” Tatum said. After hitting the free throw, Tatum cut back door and Smart found him cutting in the lane with only Gobert between him and the basket:
Gobert would get called for a Flagrant 1 after Tatum landed on his hip and spent minutes writhing in pain.
"I didn't appreciate him doing that"— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) March 16, 2023
Jayson Tatum says Rudy Gobert's tech on Derrick White was on his mind when he dunked on him the play after pic.twitter.com/xT1TVRVT8O
“Attacking the rim, especially when he’s down there, you can’t lay it up,” Tatum said. “He’s going to block that s%$#, so you gotta put pressure on the refs to call the foul and attack the rim.”
The Celtics MVP candidate was modest in his postgame response, but you could tell that that sequence meant a lot to him and his teammates. Tatum finished the game with one of his worst shooting nights of the season (22 points on 4-of-16 shooting including missing all eight of his three-pointers), but he was aggressive driving the ball and went to the free throw line sixteen times, tied for the second most attempts on the year.
And in the end, the Celtics would not only get the last laugh with the eventual win, but it was the 6’6” Grant Williams with a game-saving offensive rebound with the 7’1” Gobert in the paint and jump-ball win to ultimately seal it.