at TD Garden, 7:30 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The Minnesota Timberwolves won't have the pleasure of another reunion with Kevin Garnett in this season's visit to Boston, but the return to health of another Celtics star could ensure their pain in this series continues.
With Rajon Rondo back on the court, the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics look to beat the Timberwolves for the eighth consecutive time Monday night.
The Celtics' seven-game winning streak in this series includes all six meetings since acquiring Garnett from Minnesota before the 2007-08 season. Garnett won't play Monday due to a right leg injury expected to sideline him for two weeks, but it may not matter. He's sat out two of Boston's wins over the Timberwolves since the trade, and averaged a modest 12.3 points the four times he did play.
Rondo had 13 points and 15 assists the last time these teams met, a 122-104 home victory for Boston on Dec. 20, 2009. The point guard returned to the lineup Sunday following a seven-game absence due to a sprained left ankle. His four points matched a season low, but he also had eight assists in the 93-79 win at Toronto to help the Celtics (25-7) avoid a three-game losing streak.
"With him, because he knows everything we run, we were back into running stuff we'd basically put into hibernation while he was out," coach Doc Rivers said. "You just see how comfortable Paul (Pierce) and Ray (Allen) were."
Allen had 23 points while Pierce looked especially comfortable, scoring a game-high 30 and shooting 10 of 15 from the floor -- including 3 for 3 from 3-point range.
"Rondo is always the difference when you've got him on the court," Pierce said. "I really couldn't tell he'd been out for seven games. He was a floor general out there, he got guys in the right spots."
Boston should be wary of looking past the Timberwolves (9-25), who are playing their best ball of the season right now. Minnesota has won three of four after Saturday's 103-88 home victory over New Jersey.
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FORSBERG'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Where is the Love? Kevin Love can rebound in his sleep and is tops in the NBA in both offensive rebounds (164; second-place Blake Griffin is 32 behind) and defensive caroms (357, second-place Dwight Howard is 60 back). Love is averaging an absurd 15.3 rebounds per game, that's 2.3 more per game than his nearest competitor (Howard, 13). Playing without their primary defensive rebounder (Garnett), the Celtics must find a way to remain competitive on the glass.
Did we mention rebounding?: It's impossible to overstate this: The Celtics have to limit Minnesota's rebounds. The Timberwolves are third in the NBA in total defensive rebounds and are second in offensive rebound percentage (30.1 percent). Boston allowed a whopping 19 offensive boards against Toronto Sunday and has to keep second-chance points at a minimum, or else Love has 30/30 potential (as he showed vs. New York in November).
Shore up the transition defense: Boston gave up a season-high 29 fast-break points Sunday against the Raptors. That's especially troubling with Minnesota coming to town, a team that has the highest pace (97.6 possessions per game in the league). That said, the Celtics thrive when they pick up the pace as well and, assuming Rondo's ankle is fine after returning to action Sunday, Boston would be well-served to run early and often. After all, Minnesota is 29th in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 111.3 points per game. If Boston shoots a high percentage, watch out, the points could reach triple-digits easily.