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Minnesota Timberwolves (26-10) at Boston Celtics (28-8) Game #37 1/10/24

The Celtics host the Minnesota Timberwolves in a battle of the best of the East vs the best of the West.

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

The Celtics host the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 2nd and final game between them this season. This is a match up of the best in the East against the best in the West. The Timberwolves won the first meeting 114-109 in OT in Minnesota on November 7. The Celtics won the series against the Timberwolves 2-0 last season. The Celtics are 44-22 overall all time against the Timberwolves and 24-8 all time in games played in Boston.

The Celtics remain first in the East. They are 3.5 games ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee, 4.5 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia, and 7 games ahead of Miami (4), Indiana (5), Cleveland (6) and New York (7). They are 17-0 at home and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 6-3 against Western Conference opponents. They are coming off a loss in their last game.

The Timberwolves are 1st in the Western Conference. They are 1.5 games ahead of 2nd place Oklahoma City, 1 game ahead of 3rd place Denver, 3 games ahead of the 4th place Los Angeles Clippers, and 4 games ahead of 5th place Sacramento and 4.5 games ahead of Dallas (6) and New Orleans (7). They are 12-8 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 8-4 against Eastern Conference opponents and are coming off a win over Orlando in their last game.

The Celtics are playing in the first of back to back games. They will play on the road in Milwaukee on Thursday. They then have one game at home against Houston, followed by a game on the road in Toronto. They will then return home for a 2 game home stand against San Antonio and Denver before heading out on the road to Houston, Dallas and Miami. They then return home for a 7 game home stand.

The Timberwolves are playing in the second of back to back games. They played on the road in Orlando on Wednesday. They are 1-1 so far on the second night of back to back games. This is the 4th and final game of a 4 game road trip for the Wolves that took them through Houston, Dallas and Orlando before finishing at Boston. They will return home next to host Portland and the Clippers.

Al Horford (illness) and Jrue Holiday (elbow) are both available after being originally listed as questionable. I imagine that Horford will sit out Thursday’s game against Milwaukee. Kristaps Porzingis has been downgraded to out due to a knee contusion. Sam Hauser and Jayson Tatum, who missed Monday’s game are not on the injury report at this time. I’m going to guess that Al Horford will start in place of Porzingis.

For the Timberwolves, Jaylen Clark is out with an Achilles injury. Mike Conley is listed as out for rest with the team playing on the second night of back to back games. I’m guessing that Jordan McLaughlin will get the start in his place. Rudy Gobert is questionable with hip soreness. They may rest him due to playing back to back and the fact that Porzingis is also out. If he is out, I would guess that Naz Reid would get the start in his place.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford

Celtics Reserves
Delano Banton
Oshae Brissett
Sam Hauser
Luke Kornet
Svi Mykhailiuk
Payton Pritchard
Lamar Stevens
Jordan Walsh

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Drew Peterson
Neemias Queta

Injuries/Out
Al Horford (illness) available
Jrue Holiday (elbow) available
Kristaps Porzingis (knee) out

Head Coach
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Timberwolves Starters

PG: Jordan McLaughlin
SG: Anthony Edwards
SF: Jaden McDaniels
PF: Karl Anthony-Towns
C: Rudy Gobert

Timberwolves Reserves
Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Kyle Anderson
Troy Brown, Jr
Leonard Miller
Shake Milton
Josh Minott
Wendall Moore, Jr
Naz Reid

2 Way Players
Jaylen Clark
Luka Garza
Daishen Nix

Injuries/Out
Jaylen Clark (Achilles) out
Mike Conley (rest) out
Rudy Gobert (hip) questionable

Head Coach
Chris Finch

Key Matchups

Derrick White vs Anthony Edwards
Edwards is averaging 26.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He is shooting 46.2% from the field and 38.9% from beyond the arc. He led the Timberwolves with 38 points in their meeting in November. The Celtics need to pay attention to him, both in the paint and on the perimeter, where he has been shooting very well. If Holiday is out, White will likely start at the point with Jaylen Brown sliding over to start at the two.

Jayson Tatum vs Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns is averaging 21.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. He is shooting 50.4% from the field and 39.4% from beyond the arc. The Celtics must guard him beyond the arc because he has won a 3 point contest in 2022. Jayson Tatum has been playing very well, but Towns will have a size advantage in this game.

Honorable Mention
Kristaps Porzingis vs Rudy Gobert
This will be a matchup of 2 very tall centers if Porzingis is able to play in this game. Gobert is averaging 12.4 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.1 blocks. He is shooting 62% from the field and 0% on 3 pointers. Hopefully the Celtics can pull Gobert away from the basket as he is a very good rebounder and rim protector. If Porzingis and Horford are out, Either Luke Kornet or Neemias Queta are likely to start here and the Celtics will be very short handed up front.

Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is the key to winning every game. The Timberwolves average 112.9 points per game (22nd) while the Celtics average 121.2 points per game (5th). The Celtics are 2nd with a defensive rating of 110.4 while the Wolves have a defensive rating of 108.7 (1st). This is a matchup of the top 2 defenses in the league. Against the Pacers, the Celtics lost the game when they let up on defense in the third quarter and allowed the Pacers to shoot 68% from the field and 57% from beyond the arc in the quarter. The Celtics have got to play tough team defense for all 4 quarters if they hope to get a win in this game.

Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 47.6 rebounds per game (1st) to 44.0 rebounds per game for the Timberwolves (12th). The Celtics will need to crash the boards to keep the Wolves from getting extra possessions and second chance points. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics have got to work harder on the boards than the Wolves, given the Wolves’ big front line.

Focus - The Celtics must come into the game focused on playing the right way as a team. They need to focus on moving the ball and moving without the ball as they rank 16th in assists per game. They have to focus on taking good shots and making them. They have to focus on making good passes and not get sloppy handling the ball because the Timberwolves average 16.3 points off turnovers per game. They have to stay focused on playing tough team defense as the Wolves will definitely be playing tough defense on the Celtics.

Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics have got to come out strong and not allow the Wolves to build an early lead. They have to play hard through the 2nd and 3rd quarters and not let up to allow the Timberwolves to pull ahead because the Celtics aren’t playing their hardest. The Celtics also must finish strong and not allow the Wolves to surge ahead to close the game. They have struggled in 3rd quarters in some games so they need to especially come out from the half ready to dominate the quarter.

X-Factors
It’s Home Court Advantage for a Reason - There is a reason why they call it home court advantage. The Celtics have the crowd behind them and if they give a good effort, win or lose, the fans will cheer them on and help to motivate them. It is when the team lacks effort that the crowd will turn on their own team. The Wolves had to travel after playing the night before, stay in a hotel, play in front of a hostile crowd and on an unfamiliar court. The Celtics need to come out with effort and protect their home court.

Fatigue - Fatigue could come into play for both teams. The Celtics are playing in the 4th game in 6 nights. They are playing on the first night of back to back games and may be playing short handed. The Timberwolves are playing on the second night of back to back games and had to travel overnight. The depth for both teams will be tested in this one.

Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be an x-factor. Each officiating crew calls the game differently. Some refs call it tight and constantly call fouls while others let them play with few fouls called. The Celtics need to adjust to how the refs are calling the game and not allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on playing the game. The officials definitely were an x-factor at the end of their last game against the Pacers. The Celtics can’t let the officiating get into their heads.

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