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Protecting home court: 10 takeaways from Celtics/Timberwolves

The Boston Celtics won the battle of the first-seeds when they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

#1 Record-setting

It’s official; this current Boston Celtics team holds the franchise record for the longest winning streak on their home court. Boston’s home record currently stands at 18-0. Even watching through the TV, you can feel pride when this team is on their home court and playing in front of their own fans. They want to win. They give everything they’ve got on both sides of the floor.

Sure, it’s not always pretty, but you can get behind a team that’s leaving it all out there. The fact they’re turning that effort into consistent wins, and the TD Garden is now a fortress, well, that’s exciting for when the playoffs roll around.

If you want to put the cherry on top, the Celtics made it 18-0 by beating the best team in the Western Conference (according to their record), who could potentially be an NBA Finals matchup, depending on how things shake out.

#2 Jayson Tatum takes over

Quietly effective. Impacting in the margins. Playing within the flow of the offense. A “Jayson Tatum game looks different than it used to.” These are all ways I have described or discussed Tatum’s style of play this season.

However, in the fourth quarter and in overtime, that version of Jayson Tatum was back. The one who can put the offense on his back. The one who can hit shots that make your mind melt as you try to figure out how he pulled it off. The one that glides through a defense like a figure skater in the Olympics. When we see this version of Tatum, it reminds us why he’s still seen as a top-5 (or, if he hasn’t had a cut) top-10 player.

Tatum dropped 14 points in the fourth quarter on 5-of-9 shooting. He followed that up with another 12 in overtime, going 3-of-4 from the field. You don’t need this version of Tatum every night. In fact, the version we’ve seen throughout the season is likely more conducive to winning in the long term. However, when you’re backed against the wall, and you’re facing an elite opponent, knowing this version of Tatum can take control of the game is a comfort few teams have.

When he hits one of these over an opponent's star forward or big, you know he’s feeling it.

#3 Jaylen Brown is becoming unstoppable

You know what’s great? Jaylen Brown. Jaylen Brown is great. Especially this season. Especially this Jaylen Brown. The featured scorer version of Brown. The one where he is virtually unstoppable getting downhill. Where he picks his spots and punishes defenders around the elbows, and the one that can help control the boards push the pace and stretch a defense.

Brown had 35 points and 11 boards. He chipped in on defense with 2 steals and a block. As has become normal at this point, he set the tone on offense with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

There are not many defenders in the league who are quick enough, strong enough, and athletic enough to shut Brown down. Not with the amount of spacing he has around him. Not with the scoring gravity at every position on the floor.

Brown’s mid-range game has given him a deadly counter. If the defense looks to run him off the line, he can take a step or two and fire away from the elbow. Cut off his drive, and he can create space via a step back for a fadeaway or flow into a post-up to get to his spots. He’s become a complete offensive player.

Dropping 35 against the league-leading defense should be more than enough proof of that. If not, there’s a growing sample size you can go back and watch.

#4 A defensive battle

We saw it on both sides of the floor. Both the Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves were looking to control the game via their defense. Both teams have big men who can guard on the perimeter and switch actions when required. Furthermore, both teams have size, length, athleticism, and a commitment to playing tough, physical defense.

Finding ways to penetrate was a tough task for both sides. Boston had a scoreless stretch in the second quarter that spanned almost five minutes — such was the pressure the Timberwolves were providing. Minnesota had their own stretches of poor offense to overcome, too.

We also saw some great individual battles. Tatum vs. Anthony Edwards. Tatum vs. Jaden McDaniels. Jaylen Brown vs. Kyler “Slo-Mo” Anderson. The list goes on.

When defensive pressure is applied from both sides, it usually brings out the best in each team’s star players, and we get to witness those battles in real time. Was a truly fun chess match.

#5 The Anthony Edwards rivalry will be so much fun

It’s bubbling under the surface. Sooner or later, there is going to be a rivalry between Tatum and Edward. Or maybe it will be Brown and Edwards. Either way, the Celtics and Timberwolves are ascending at the same time. They both have highly competitive lead scorers on their rosters who want to prove they’re among the best in the world.

You could see it in the way Tatum and Brown both called their numbers to guard Edwards down the stretch. You could see it with how Edwards wanted to push the action and get his buckets over the two All-NBA wings.

I love player-on-player rivalries. It adds to the game. It brings the best out of everyone. Bring it on. Please!

#6 The Horford effect

I might be wrong, but it feels like the unofficial plan is to sit Kristaps Porzingis at the front end of back-to-backs and, of course, Al Horford on the second night. Maybe I missed a memo here. Still, it makes sense.

Horford stepping into the starting lineup doesn’t change much for the Celtics. They can still play within their five-out system. They still have shooting from everywhere on the court. Horford also ensures there is a quick decision maker at the five spots who can help play-make in delay actions or provide upside as a screener.

It’s hard to write about Horford. Falling back into the old tropes of him being under rated, providing impact beyond the box score, being a leader of the team, a true veteran. Every last one of those tropes is true. Still, it gets as repetitive writing them as it likely does for you reading them.

However, I honestly don’t know how else to describe Horford’s impact. He is a metronome for the Celtics on both sides of the floor. He makes an impact. He plays his role and rarely calls his own number. Everything Horford does is for the team.

Against the Timberwolves, Horford did a little bit of everything. 9 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3-of-8 shooting. Quick decisions. Great defense. Everything seems to flow smoothly when Horford’s out there.

Personally, the below action where Horford rejects the dribble hand-off with Brown before hitting him on the loop to the rim, was one of my favorite Horford plays. It wasn’t flashy, it was understated, and Brown earned applause for applying the finish.

It’s true. The Celtics are a better team with Porzinigs in the starting lineup. However, when your backup is Al Horford, well, that’s another luxury most teams wish they had.

#7 Gettin nerdy with it: Hauser stack actions

You may have seen these plays referenced as a “Spain pick-and-roll.” Both names mean the same thing. However, if you listen closely to the broadcast, you can often hear Joe Mazzulla calling out “stack” when he wants the Celtics to run this play, so let’s stick with the naming system Boston uses.

Stack actions are fairly straightforward. A team runs a normal pick-and-roll action while putting a shooter as a rip-screener on the defending big man. The shooter then pops out onto the perimeter as the action unfolds. Teams have become wise to defend these actions now, but when they work, they create a tremendous amount of space for the shooter.

Putting Sam Hauser in these actions is a smart decision. He’s arguably the best movement shooter on the Celtics roster and has a quick release on his shot.

What I liked most was how the Celtics returned to the action a second time and used Hauser’s pop as a decoy to get Derrick White open around the rim.

Hauser’s pop onto the perimeter forces Naz Reid to step up out of the paint, creating a clear driving lane for White to exploit.

#8 Getting nerdy with it: Corner digs

In recent weeks, I’ve written a lot about how the Celtics are pinching in on the elbows when players look to penetrate. Boston likes to take away the middle of the court, especially on drives. Another thing I’ve been spotting is how they’re doing a similar thing when offensive players are driving toward the baseline from the wing area.

Rather than pinching in around the elbow, the Celtics have their strongside corner defender dig toward the ball-handler to take away space, effectively using the baseline as a third defender to crowd the drive.

Brown’s dig kills the drive and forces Edwards to give up the ball, allowing Horford time to switch on to Anderson and position his body between the ball and the rim, leading to a well-contested bunny.

#9 Free Throws

I’m not going to spend much time on this one. The Celtics made 30 of their 31 free throws. Their charity stripe conversion rate to begin the year was becoming a talking point online. However, since January 1, Boston has been shooting 79.9% from the free-throw line, which is far from a cause for panic.

Nevertheless, Boston answered any lingering questions surrounding their ability to convert free throws by making the most of their opportunities against the Timberwolves.

#10 Kornet as a dump-off outlet

Luke Kornet is firmly back in the rotation. There was a moment where it felt like Neemias Queta had earned himself a bigger role while Kornet was out with injury during the West Coast road trip. However, Kornet has proven his value to the team off the bench and continues to make a difference when checking into games.

Boston looked to use their backup big as a dump-off outlet on offense against Minnesota. Hitting him with wrap-around passes, as he occupied the weakside dunker spot.

Kornet can bring a lot of different things to the Celtics offense. He can screen, he can make reads out of the short roll, he can score via the post, and the list goes on. However, having Kornet use his size to occupy the weakside dunker spot and get easy buckets in rhythm is a great way to utilize his size and put him in a position to fight for rebounds on misses.

It’s a little observation, but one I thought was prevalent given the size the Timberwolves can put on the floor and how Kornet’s positioning helped occupy some of Minnesota’s rim protection.

Looking Ahead

A big shout-out to Ben Dupont, who stepped in for me earlier this week! I hope you all enjoyed the different viewpoints and writing styles!

We won’t have to wait long to see the Celtics back in action. They’re facing the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday (today) after likely making the journey over night. Matching up with one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference on the second night of a back-to-back isn’t going to be easy. Still, I’m quietly confident in the team’s ability to secure another win and I will be back here tomorrow regardless of what happens. Catch you all then!

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