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Finding some fight: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Timberwolves

The Celtics looked a little like the 2022 Celtics again in a big road win

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

1. In the Boston Celtics win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, it was the first time in a long time that Boston looked a little bit like the 2022 Celtics. Not in terms of a dominant win, but in attitude and togetherness. They looked a little like those Celtics we loved from a year ago.

Boston’s defense was as good as it’s been all season. The offense did just enough. This was very much a grind-it-out victory, and those have been in short order for the Celtics this season.

2. Jaylen Brown has been the Celtics best player over the last month or so. That doesn’t mean he is the Celtics best player. That’s still Jayson Tatum. But Brown has done the best work over the last month. He’s come up big to both open and close games recently. We’re going to focus on Brown’s closing work from this one.

This is how confidently Brown is playing right now. A clock-beater from this deep is a poised pull:

Brown has been incorporating a step-back into his shot profile a little bit more this season:

This is an almost impossible finish, but instead of throwing up some garbage or hunting for a foul, Brown patiently worked for an angle to kiss the ball off the glass:

The great thing is that even with Brown feeling it with his own shot, he played the right way. With Rudy Gobert dropping and Anthony Edwards fighting over the screen, Brown makes the perfect read to Al Horford on the pick-and-pop:

3. Joe Mazzulla often talks about not having a problem with the number of three-pointers the Celtics take, or really any of the shots the Celtics take, provided they are good shots. This game was an example of that. Boston continually generated good looks, they just weren’t falling. That said, there were some examples of good process where the team did score.

The Celtics pace was pretty good for most of the game. On this play, Marcus Smart pushed the ball to attack before the Wolves could set their defense. Jayson Tatum’s cut to the block pulls Kyle Anderson with him. That left no one to pick up Derrick White at the arc:

You don’t think of pushing pace as being Malcolm Brogdon’s game, but he’s pretty steady about getting the ball up the floor quickly when he’s running the show. This is a nice paint attack before leaving it for Blake Griffin for one of his two dunks on the night:

This clip starts after Boston had already hit the paint twice on the possession. When it runs, you see Brogdon get into the lane for a third time before kicking it to White, who swings it to an open Jaylen Brown:

Again, drive-and-kick is when Boston is at their best. Jayson Tatum delivers the great kickout to Al Horford, who pitches it to White for another triple:

This isn’t a direct drive-and-kick, but it has the same result. Brown finds Smart on the short roll, and he catches and finds Horford all in one motion:

4. A big part of beating the Timberwolves, as it was with the Utah Jazz, is finding ways to attack Rudy Gobert. You can’t just let Gobert camp out in the paint, or the rim will be off limits all night. You also can’t just try to space him out, or the Wolves will adjust and find ways to keep him near the basket. The key is to vary your attacks.

Sometimes the best way is to go right at Gobert. Marcus Smart does a great job using his body to protect the ball here, while drawing the and-1:

If you’ve got a shooting big, you can space Gobert out sometimes. Al Horford draws the closeout and gets into the paint, where he has options before taking the runner:

Other times, you try and force Gobert to play in space. This is a nice set to drag Gobert to the weakside corner. Smart delivers the excellent pass to Jayson Tatum. From there, it’s all Tatum, as he hammers one on the late-arriving Gobert:

5. On the above clip, Rudy Gobert was called for a flagrant foul. That amped up some nastiness that had been building throughout the game. Jaylen Brown drew a technical after he thought Gobert hit him with an intentional elbow. Gobert got a technical after slamming one through the hoop and barking at the Celtics.

Throughout the second half of the game, Boston picked up the physicality. They were banging bodies, hitting cutters, and swipes at the ball were more like chops. In short: the Celtics got a little nasty. And it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Celtics get a little nasty. It was a welcome return to the guys in green that we love to see.

6. Whenever Boston gets nasty, you can bet Marcus Smart is smack in the middle of it. And he was throughout this game. Smart caused more than his fair share of dustups, but he also came up with some big-time basketball plays too.

With Boston trying to hold off Minnesota, Smart went on the attack late. There was no hesitation to drive this ball, before drawing the contact while hitting the and-1 runner:

On the next trip, Smart didn’t wait for a broken play to develop. He went himself for the strong finish:

7. This wasn’t a masterpiece from Jayson Tatum. Once again, he couldn’t find the range on his jumper. That’s become a very concerning trend, and it’s something Tatum and Boston have to figure out if they want make a return trip to the Finals.

On the plus side, Tatum is no longer solely reliant on his jumper to score. He can get downhill for buckets or to draw fouls. That’s become a bigger part of his game.

What we really love, and want to see more of, is Tatum getting in the post. And this one wasn’t against a mismatch either. This was just Tatum being better than the defender:

Sometimes all Tatum needs to do is run the floor hard to let his teammates set him up:

8. Joe Mazzulla tweaked his first half rotation in a big way. He was running players in and out of the game for shorter stints. Maybe in a nod to March Madness, it was like a college substitution pattern.

Whatever the reason, it seemed to have guys fresh and ready to go in the second half, where Mazzulla employed a more traditional rotation. Even if it was just to spark some guys and to see some different lineups for a bit, it was an interesting adjustment from Mazzulla, whose rotations have come under fire recently.

9. Speaking of the rotation…Grant Williams found his way back in the mix. Maybe it’s because the Wolves play a little bigger than most teams, but Williams being on the floor was a good sign. His night was a little uneven until the final seconds, but he came up big when Boston needed him to.

Take your eyes away from the ball for this clip and watch Williams come out of the weakside corner. He does a terrific job getting inside position and snagging a monster offense rebound:

Everything that came after this was a mess. Joe Mazzulla and Marcus Smart, along with Jayson Tatum at the end, were all trying to call for a timeout. And, despite the official’s postgame response, it happened when Williams had clear possession of the ball. Which is probably why they allowed Williams to clearly steal the tip on the ensuing jump ball.

Even if the stats weren’t great, these sorts of plays are what Boston needs from Grant Williams. If the Celtics are going to get back to where they want to go, Williams is going to be a big part of that journey.

10. This was a good win for the Celtics to wipe the bitter taste from their mouths after a bad loss in Houston. The trip continues with a tricky back-to-back in Portland and then Utah. Both games the Celtics should win, but both are also games where Boston will be challenged.

Maybe finding their nasty again and grinding out a road win is something the Celtics can lean on for a little bit. It’s taken a long time for them to look like the “take no nonsense” group from 2022, but it was there in Minnesota. Let’s see if that version of the Celtic sticks around for a while.

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