Boston Celtics: Minnesota Timberwolves
Foul trouble for Brandon Bass pressed Humphries into extended service, and he responded by registering eight points and seven rebounds over 21 minutes while helping the Celtics to a 101-97 win at TD Garden.
Oh sure, Jared Sullinger hit the big shot (a straightaway 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining to break the game's final tie) while scoring a team-high 24 points, and Olynyk chipped in nine points over 13 minutes. But Humphries' workmanlike effort shouldn't go unnoticed. He finished a team-best plus-14 in plus/minus, Boston thriving in the second half when Humphries was on the floor.
"That's the hardest thing in the NBA: being ready to play, staying ready, mentally and physically, all those things," Humphries said. "Our staff does a great job of preparing us and working with us."
Humphries is in a bit of a unique situation as the highest-paid player on the roster ($12 million this season). His acquisition this offseason as part of the Brooklyn Blockbuster was met with eye rolls by those who judged him more by his exploits off the court than on.
What's often ignored regarding Humphries is that he was a double-double player for much of his time with the Nets. His production dipped when his playing time evaporated last season, but those who watched him promised he'd always be ready for his next opportunity.
In five appearances for the month of December, Humphries is averaging 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds over 21.2 minutes per game. He's shooting 60 percent from the field, and Boston is plus-56 in his 106 minutes of floor time in December.
This isn't just a five-game trend. Good things are happening when Humphries is on the court. Boston owns an offensive rating of 108.1 when Humphries is on the floor this season, and it drops to 97.4 when he's off. Boston is plus-43 overall in his 288 total minutes of action but minus-63 in the 960 minutes he's on the bench.
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"Couldn’t tell you if [his players] read [the trade gossip]; I don’t pay attention to that stuff," Stevens said. "The only time I would pay attention to it is if [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] came in and told me that something was being considered, and we haven’t had any of those discussions. Ultimately, this is a job, it’s a unique business that we are all in, but I have not seen it affect personalities one way or another. It’s been the same locker room for the last two months."
Stevens inherited a flawed roster heavy on shooting guards and power forwards, but lacking depth at point guard (at least while Rajon Rondo has rehabbed) and center (which helps explain the Asik speculation). If he'd like to see some tweaks to the unbalanced roster, Stevens isn't tipping his hand.
"It’s not my job," he said. "I’ll coach the guys that are here, and I’m excited about coaching these guys and I’ve enjoyed coaching these guys."
A handful of postgame notes after the Celtics topped the Timberwolves 101-97 at TD Garden:
- SULLINGER'S 3-POINTER: For much of December, Jared Sullinger has been a bit more selective with his 3-point shot. He noted the other day how he often passes up an initial look hoping to create a better one when the ball works its way back to him. But Sullinger didn't hesitate when he drilled a 25-foot straightaway triple with 2:22 left that helped Boston emerge with the win. "I was wide open," Sullinger said. "I passed up a lot of shots in the third quarter, where I was wide open and tried to get better shots for my teammates. [Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty] pulled me to the bench and said, ‘Just shoot the ball. That’s what players do. We believe in you. Every shot that you take, we have confidence in you. Now you have to have confidence in yourself to shoot it.’ And I heard that. Obviously, my confidence went through the roof, especially coming from a coach. When you hear, ‘Shoot the ball,’ you automatically shoot it the next play down. It was tremendous to have a support system like that."
- STRENGTH IN NUMBERS (OF YEARS): Minnesota coach Rick Adelman was asked why so many college coaches have failed at the NBA level and offered, "I have no idea why it is. I think a lot of times, it depends on the teams you get. Some college coaches take teams that aren’t very good. ... It’s hard to win in this league. Let’s face facts: In college, the coach is the man. He controls everything. You’ve got to be a little bit different personality here to coach in the NBA. You have to get the players’ respect and make them believe that they can win and they can get better. But it’s a long season too. It’s the travel and the 82 games. It’s really wearing. But one thing he’s got going for him is the length of his contract. I’m serious. I think Danny was really smart. If that was the guy he was going to pick, and he’s obviously a very good coach and really smart, you want him to get through this period, and I think they’ve done a good job of getting quality people. If they get Rondo back [in game action], they’re going to be a team to compete."
- HUMMEL TELESCOPE: Stevens is quite familiar with Timberwolves guard/forward Robbie Hummel, a native of Valparaiso, Ind. Hummel started Monday's game and finished with 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting with four rebounds over 19 minutes. "I have so much respect for him," said Stevens. "And he was friends with a lot of our players [at Butler], they had played together in the summer. And I know that he’s still friends with a couple of them. [Celtics assistant] Coach [Micah] Shrewsberry coached him for a year at Purdue on my staff. Obviously, we’re really familiar with him, and coming back from what he came back from, with the two ACLs, is a remarkable story."
- RUBIO ON RONDO RECOVERY: Wolves guard Ricky Rubio has been through the rigors of ACL rehab. His advice to Rajon Rondo? "It’s hard, it depends on how he feels and how much he trusts his knee," said Rubio. "It is something I have been through and I can tell what I have been through that it wasn’t easy. Even when I was playing it took a long time for me to be myself again."
BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 101-97 on Monday night at TD Garden:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Jared Sullinger scored a team-high 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and 5 assists over 35 minutes, while Avery Bradley added 19 points on 9-of-17 shooting in 32 minutes as the Celtics edged the Timberwolves at the finish line. Kevin Love scored a game-high 27 points, but on 9-of-26 shooting with 14 rebounds. Three of Minnesota's five players in double figures came off the bench with Dante Cunningham (12), (Northeastern's own!) Jose Juan Barea (10) and Alexey Shved (10).
In a game that featured 10 lead changes and seven ties (and with neither side ever leading by double digits), Minnesota and Boston found themselves tied at 92 with less than three minutes to play. Sullinger drilled a straightaway 3-pointer with 2:22 to play and Boston's defense nearly made it stand up. Nikola Pekovic made a layup with 1:06 to play as the Timberwolves got within a point, but Sullinger and Jordan Crawford provided the free throws that helped Boston hang on.
CLEANING THE GLASS
Minnesota won the battle on the glass but only by a 51-50 margin. The Timberwolves did generate 19 offensive rebounds leading to 23 second-chance points, but Boston parlayed 14 offensive rebounds into 27 second-chance points.
The Celtics went 11 deep early in the game with foul trouble forcing Brad Stevens to lean on all five of his bigs. MarShon Brooks and Keith Bogans were healthy DNPs. ... Brandon Bass spent nearly the entire game in foul trouble, picking up his fifth personal just 2 ½ into the third quarter. ... Kris Humphries played 21 minutes in his place and was a team-best plus-14 while chipping in eight points and seven rebounds. ... Boston shot 44.2 percent from the field; the Timberwolves were at 37.8 percent. ... The Timberwolves committed just seven turnovers (leading to six points); Boston had 13 turnovers for 15 points.
WHAT IT MEANS
Boston (12-14) has won two straight and eight of its last 12. The Celtics have two more games on this five-game homestand with visits from the Detroit Pistons (Wednesday) and Washington Wizards (Saturday) ahead. Boston travels to Indiana on Sunday, but then will enjoy a five-day holiday break after playing 29 games over the first 53 days of the season.
- WOLVES IN SHEEP CLOTHING: Don't let the .500 record deceive you. The Wolves rank in the top half of the league in most major statistical categories, including offensive (12th) and defensive (13th) rating. Minnesota is also a top-10 team on both the offensive (6th) and defensive (9th) glass, and takes excellent care of the ball (4th in team turnover percentage). The Timberwolves have already hammered Boston twice this season (once in the preseason). Said Boston coach Brad Stevens: "I think they’re really good. I’m not going based on records or anything like that. I’m going on the way I’ve felt twice in the building with them. And I think they’re really a good basketball team."
- ONE-MONTH CHECKUP: For the Celtics, this is one of those proverbial measuring-stick games. Boston endured a 106-88 loss in Minnesota exactly one month ago this date and, while the team feels like it's made a lot of progress since then, Stevens would like to see it against a talented opponent. "I watched the Minnesota game a month ago and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night because I want to see if it can be an accurate gauge -- if we play well -- of how far we’ve come and how much we’ve improved in that time," said Stevens. Hop HERE to read more on the one-month checkup.
- RUN RUN RUN: Minnesota plays at the second-highest pace in the league, averaging a whopping 100.51 possessions per game. By comparison, Boston is 23rd at 94.87 possessions per contest. Transition defense, an area of improvement for Boston in recent weeks, will be tested against Minnesota. "We’re playing the number one team in pace in the league, [so] if you don’t get back and set your defense, you’re in trouble," said Stevens. "They challenge that. It’s easy to even say [get back and get set]... but it’s one thing to be able to do it against those guys. And those guys will put you in a position. I think we’re getting better [at transition defense]. I’m not sold that we’re good enough yet. I think we will continue to get better."
- WHAT ELSE?: Celtics forward Kris Humphries, who missed the last two games with a sore right knee, went through practice Sunday and will be available to add depth to Boston's frontcourt. ... The Timberwolves rank last in the league in opponent field goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot a robust 47.6 percent against them overall (and 37.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc). ... Boston's 3-point defense should be tested, especially after the Timberwolves hit a season-high 12 triples in Sunday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies. ... As STATS LLC notes: The Timberwolves haven't won in Boston since March 6, 2005 and are seeking their first season series sweep since 1999-2000.
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"I watched the Minnesota game from a month ago and I’m really looking forward to [Monday] night because I want to see if it can be an accurate gauge -- if we play well -- of how far we’ve come and how much we’ve improved in that time," said Stevens. "But you still have to play well to be able to accurately assess that. Hopefully we do."
The Celtics have danced with the Wolves twice already during the 2013-14 campaign (once in the preseason) and both times they got roughed up. Stevens was asked this weekend about whether seeing a team a second time can aid his preparation and quipped, "Well, we’ve seen Minnesota twice and the second time didn’t help. Hopefully the third time’s the charm."
The Celtics are in a weird spot. They are 11-14, which isn't seemingly much to jump up and down about, except in the Eastern Conference where it's good enough to lead the Atlantic Division and pencil Boston in for the fourth seed. With Boston in a transition year, some wondered if they'd win 11 games all season, let alone a mere 25 games in.
But even the team's fans have been conflicted about whether to root for Boston to continue to overachieve (playoffs?!), or hope the rest of the East progresses to the mean and restores a bit of normalcy (where an 11-14 squad would likely sit in the middle of the lottery squads).
Here's what we do know: The Celtics have a number of individual players performing exceptionally well (Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger headlining that list) and a hectic November schedule helped a young Boston team bond quicker than it might have otherwise. With Rajon Rondo returning to full-contact practice this past weekend and targeting a potential January return to game action, Boston must decided how it proceeds, particularly with only 67 days remaining in the trade shopping season.
Can Boston continue to overachieve? Just how much progress has it made since the start of the season? Monday's game against the Wolves can help answer some of those questions.
Here's a quick glance at Boston's statistical advancements in a handful of advanced stat categories:
Hone in on Boston's last eight games, a stretch in which the team is 5-3 overall, and the leaps are even more pronounced. The Celtics are eighth in offensive rating (106.3), fifth in defensive rating (99.1), and fourth in net rating (+7.1). But can they keep it going against a team like Minnesota?
Bradley thrived in the midrange, making 9-of-13 attempts in that zone. Last week we spotlighted how much better Bradley has been playing off the ball, but carrying the offense on a night when Boston's other go-to presences disappeared (Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger were a combined 1-of-12 shooting for 5 points) was a nice reminder of Bradley's offensive potential from that shooting-guard spot.
Bradley is playing with immense confidence in his midrange shot, connecting on a sterling 47.7 percent (31-of-65) of attempts this season. Early in Saturday's game, he fearlessly fired away while coming off screens at the top of the key. And he was able to create shots off the dribble on the wing, stepping back at times to create space for his jumper.
One area Bradley is still looking to re-establish is his 3-point game. Back in that breakout 2011-12 campaign, he shot 40.7 percent beyond the arc and was lethal from the corner. At the moment, Bradley is a mere 5-of-24 (20.8 percent) on 3-pointers (and just 23.5 percent from that corner spot).
Bradley is slowly digging himself out of the offensive hole he fell into while playing out of position at point guard to start the season. Boston's offense still lags with him on the floor. Through 11 games, Boston owns an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of only 94.4 in Bradley's 328 minutes of floor time. That's three points less than the team's season average (97.3) and that number jumps to 101.9 when Bradley is on the bench. What's more, Boston's defensive rating isn't as glossy as you might expect, hovering at 100.2 with Bradley on the floor (it is a point better than the team's average and it does rise about three points with him off the floor).
As this week proved, there's still plenty of room for improvement -- and more consistency -- from Bradley at both ends of the floor. But you know defense is typically going to be there from the All-Defensive second-teamer, and games like Saturday show again that he does have potential to be an offensive threat.
A few more thoughts after Boston's loss Saturday to the Wolves:
- GREEN AROUND THE GILLS: Green told reporters in Minnesota that both he and the team played like excreta. It's good that he acknowledges a lackluster effort (though it'd be hard to sugarcoat a night when he was 0-for-6 with 2 points over 30 minutes). This was the first time in Green's career that he had been held without a field goal in 30 minutes of play (though there have been five other instances of him not making a basket while playing 20-plus minutes, including twice in Boston). With Bradley firing away, Green slid to second on the team in offensive possessions finished, according to Synergy Sports data. Bradley now tops the team at 173 possessions finished (Green is at 170). Considering Green is supposed to be the focal point of the offense, it's a bit surprising to not find him at the top of the list. Regardless of whether his teammates are getting him involved, Green has to be more aggressive and create opportunities for himself.
- ROUGH NIGHT FOR SULLINGER: After playing 36 minutes Friday -- the most floor time of his career that wasn't an overtime game -- Sullinger really struggled Saturday. Maybe the bone bruise on his knee bugged him, maybe his wind was gone after Friday's effort. But Sullinger was minus-27 over a mere 13:42, finishing with 3 points while missing 5 of the 6 shots he took. Essentially he followed one of the finest outings of his career with one of his worst.
- TURNING THE PAGE: The Celtics turned the ball over 22 times for 28 points. Woof. Many of their giveaways were cringe-worthy, just lazy passes that never had a chance. This was the first game of the regular season in which Boston didn't have a honest-to-goodness chance in the fourth quarter to rally -- and those turnovers were a big reason why. Boston's starting unit combined for 16 giveaways (four apiece for Green and Brandon Bass).
Rapid reaction after the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Boston Celtics 106-88 on Saturday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Kevin Love paced three Timberwolves with 20-plus points, posting a team-high 23 points to go along with 12 rebounds while spearheading Minnesota's high-octane offense. Both Nikola Pekovic (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Kevin Martin (20 points) joined him in that club. The Celtics hung around for a half, then ran out of steam and watched Minnesota run away (even though both teams were playing a back-to-back). Avery Bradley scored a team-high 27 points on 12-of-23 shooting (one point shy of his career high) for Boston. Vitor Faverani, back in the starting lineup, added nine points and 14 rebounds.
Despite trailing by 17 midway through the second quarter, Boston closed out the first half strong (largely on the play of Faverani) and went into the intermission down five. The Celtics got a point closer early in the second half, but it was fleeting. Minnesota promptly embarked on an 11-0 run and Martin's layup had the hosts out front 70-55 with 7:01 to play in the third quarter. The lead never came back down to single digits.
Jeff Green didn't have a single field goal, finishing 0-for-6 shooting with a mere two points over 30 minutes. He was a minus-6 in this game. He did grab seven rebounds and block two shots, but he also turned the ball over four times and was an absolute nonfactor in the game. Credit Corey Brewer with solid defense, but Green did nothing to get himself going late in the game.
With Courtney Lee sideline by a sore wrist, MarShon Brooks got his first extended action of the season and turned in eight points on 3-of-7 shooting with three rebounds and an assist over 17:36. ... One night after scoring a career-high 26 points, Jared Sullinger came crashing back to Earth. The second-year forward finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting over 13:42. He really struggled to defend around the basket and was minus-27 on the night. Sullinger had played a season-high 36 minutes on Friday night after missing the previous game due to a bone bruise on his right knee. ... Kris Humphries got another brief opportunity, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds over 11 minutes. ... Keith Bogans was not with the team due to illness. ... Boston shot just 39.5 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent beyond the 3-point stripe.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (4-7) have now dropped three straight, continuing the streaky nature of the 2013-14 season (lost four, won four, lost three). Boston gets a rare two-day break as this road trip shifts to Texas, where the three-game trek closes with games against the Rockets (Tuesday) and Spurs (Wednesday). This trip doesn't get any easier from here and the Celtics must regroup with the rare minor break in this brutal November schedule.
- REMEMBER THESE GUYS? The Celtics have film of Minnesota from the preseason, so that'll aid the quick turnaround. That said, it's not film the Celtics are going to want to study. You'll recall that preseason meeting as the game that Gerald Wallace questioned the effort level of the team after a lopsided 104-89 loss. The Celtics most certainly have to bring better effort this time around. The Timberwolves rank in the top 10 in both offensive rating (8th) and defensive rating (8th), and climb in net rating (5th). As STATS LLC notes on Minnesota, the Timberwolves rank near the top of the NBA at 108.7 points per game, and have averaged 114.6 while hitting 40.7 percent from 3-point range over their last five. Sounds a lot like the Portland team that Boston had few answers for on Friday night in Boston.
- GET READY TO RUN: The Timberwolves are first in the NBA in averaging a whopping 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes. Boston's in the lower half of the league at 96.18 (though a cranked tempo has helped the Celtics when they take care of the ball and rebound). Boston's not going to win a track meet with Minnesota, but it can't be shy about running off defensive stops.
- MORE FROM FIRST UNIT: Boston's starting five of Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Kelly Olynyk weren't particularly crisp on Friday. That unit combined on 14-of-42 shooting -- including 0-for-7 beyond the 3-point arc -- for a total of 39 points. In eight minutes of floor time together, the group was only minus-1, which suggests they atoned a bit on the defensive end, but Boston needs more offensive production from the first unit.
- 48-MINUTE EFFORT: It has all resolved back to this lately. The Celtics need to put together a complete game if they're going to compete with top competition. With a rare two-day break looming after Saturday's game, there's no reason for Boston not to go full tilt (even on the tail end of a back-to-back). Starters didn't play very many minutes Friday and need to set the tone early while avoiding the breakdowns that occurred when Boston relaxed against the Blazers.
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The NBA doesn't track preseason lineup data in its available stats package, but by our very unscientific count, Green and Wallace shared the floor for a total of 14 minutes, 35 seconds on Sunday, including an 8 ½-minute glimpse to start the second half. The results?
Boston was plus-5 with the Green/Wallace combo on the floor, outscoring the Timberwolves 35-30. The Celtics shot 50 percent (13 of 26 overall) from the floor with 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals, a block and two turnovers (not bad when you consider that means Boston shot 33.3 percent when the duo was not on the floor together). Minnesota shot 42.9 percent (9 of 21 overall) with 11 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, four blocks, and five turnovers.
The Celtics mixed the personnel around the duo, pairing them with Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, and Jared Sullinger to start the second half. That left Green often attempting to defend smaller guards and Boston was just plus-1 over the first 8:21 of the second half.
Where Boston enjoyed its most success with the combo was as a sub lineup in the first quarter. Green subbed for Bass with 6:21 to play in the frame (while rookie Kelly Olynyk replaced Courtney Lee) leaving the group on the floor with Bradley and Sullinger. The Celtics were down 18-7 at the initial substitution, but went on an 11-2 burst over the first two minutes to briefly make it a one-possession game.
Is the Green/Wallace lineup sustainable? Given that Green is supposed to be Boston's go-to guy and Wallace has been among the league leaders in minutes during his career, the two should naturally overlap on the floor despite playing the same position. We need to see more of the pair together, and with different players around them, to know if and how it can truly thrive.
But it sounds like we'll most definitely see more of the combo.
“I’d have to look at the overall numbers on it, but I thought we were pretty good in that stretch -- both in the first half and [to open] the second half," Stevens told reporters in Montreal. “We played them together some in the first half where we played big on the wings, and we played them some together at the start of the second half. It’s probably a 10- or 12-minute clip of that. And, based on how it went tonight, I would say that you’ll probably see that again."
For a Celtics team with an non-ideal mix of players -- including logjams at the shooting guard and power forward spots -- being creative with their most talented players will be key to being competitive. While Green has slumped for much of the preseason, he's shown more aggression lately and has said in the past that playing with Wallace intrigues him. Wallace, who took the second night of a pair of preseason back-to-backs off, has been one of Boston's most consistent performers when he's on the floor, especially in terms of bringing energy and effort.
For one game at least, it was an encouraging takeaway from an effort thin on positives.
Wallace couldn't save the Celtics from absorbing a 104-89 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Bell Centre, their sixth defeat in seven tries this preseason, but he gave another glimpse of the relentless energy and effort that he'll bring to the team during the 2013-14 season.
The Celtics actually have had to throttle Wallace this preseason, sitting the 12-year veteran on the tail end of their two back-to-backs. But coach Brad Stevens turned Wallace loose on Sunday, and might have found an intriguing lineup combination when paired with fellow swingman Jeff Green (a pairing that Stevens told reporters after the game he's likely to use more moving forward).
Minnesota lost Wallace on an easy bucket early and he only took off from there. Midway through the first quarter, he stepped in front of a pass intended for Kevin Martin and streaked the other way for a layup. On Boston's next possession, he got behind the defense and took an outlet pass from Avery Bradley for another easy basket. Late in the first quarter, the Timberwolves challenged Wallace to shoot and he buried a straightaway 3-pointer.
His best bucket of the night, however, might have come midway through the second quarter. Corey Brewer got a little overzealous trying to strip Wallace on the perimeter and the 31-year-old used a little rip-through move to shake him at the 3-point line before storming to the basket for a one-handed jam.
Wallace, who has pledged to be a leader of a team in transition, seems to be challenging his teammates to elevate their play. Having gone through similar rebuilding phases, most notably after being picked by the Charlotte Bobcats in the expansion draft, Wallace knows what buttons to push to get the most out of a young team. As the most experienced player on this roster, can he do the same in Boston?
Some Celtics fans groaned at absorbing the three years and $30.3 million remaining on Wallace's deal as part of this summer's blockbuster swap with the Nets. Being the last player to report to town before training camp left some wondering about his commitment to the team. But his former Nets teammates were emphatic that the man nicknamed "Crash" for his reckless style would quickly win fans over and his effort on Sunday only hammered that home.
Now the Celtics just have to hope that intensity rubs off on his younger teammates.
Read on for some other thoughts after Boston's loss to the Timberwolves, including how Vitor Faverani continues to impress, Avery Bradley's highlight-worthy pickpocket of Ricky Rubio, and Jared Sullinger's 3-point shooting.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Kevin Love scored a game-high 22 points to go along with nine rebounds, three steals, three assists, and a block, while Kevin Martin spearheaded Minnesota's hot 3-point shooting by connecting on 5-of-8 triples as part of a 21-point outburst as the Timberwolves raced away from Boston. Gerald Wallace started and brought a much-needed dose of intensity to the floor, pacing Boston with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting with three assists, two steals, and two rebounds over 25:11. Jeff Green added 12 points off the pine for the Celtics. For Boston, it's the team's sixth loss in seven games this preseason.
Wallace was phenomenal, leading by example with his full-throttle style. We also got a chance to see him mixed with Green and it worked well at times for Boston, causing matchup problems for the Timberwolves. ... The Celtics scored 50 points in the paint -- 56.2 percent of their total offensive output. For a team without a lot of pure size, that's an excellent number (especially against Minnesota), but their shooting outside the paint let them down. ... Kris Humphries returned after missing one game with a sore left foot and finished with nine points in 16 minutes. ... Even without backup point guard Phil Pressey, the Celtics turned the ball over only 12 times. ... Brandon Bass continues to quietly do his job, scoring 10 points and grabbing a team-high eight rebounds.
Boston's shooting was atrocious. The Celtics shot 38.4 percent overall (33 of 86) from the floor. ... And 3-point shooting was really criminal as Boston was 3-of-26 (11.5 percent) beyond the arc. Woof. ... Jared Sullinger missed three triples, airballing one in the first quarter. ... MarShon Brooks got 18 minutes, but missed 10 shots (4-of-14 overall). He finished with nine points and six rebounds off the bench. ... Courtney Lee didn't capitalize on the spot start, making just 1-of-4 shots for two points and finishing minus-16 in plus/minus. ... Jordan Crawford was a team-worst minus-19 with the second unit, spotlighting Boston's second-unit struggles.
Phil Pressey (left ankle) was available, but coach Brad Stevens had said he was likely to play it safe and Pressey did not play. ... Announced attendance in Quebec: 20,152.
The Celtics wrap up their eight-game exhibition slate on Wednesday when the (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce-less) Brooklyn Nets visit TD Garden. Boston will then get a mix of rest and practice time to ensure they're ready when the regular season tips off on Oct. 30 in Toronto.
* FINISHING STRONG: The Celtics dropped back-to-back games last week against the Nets and Raptors, both by two points apiece, and coach Brad Stevens emphasized "finishing" in the two days of practice that followed. Stevens doesn't just want his team to finish games stronger, but finish possessions better to ensure Boston isn't searching for a winning shot on its final possession.
* LEE IN FOCUS: Courtney Lee put together tow of his better games of the preseason coming off the bench last week. With Phil Pressey (ankle) a game-time decision and Stevens hinting Saturday he might play it safe with the rookie guard, then Lee would be in line to vault into the starting lineup (with Jordan Crawford likely sliding to reserve point guard behind Avery Bradley in that scenario). Said Stevens, "I told Courtney last week, it doesn’t matter if he starts or comes off the bench and he agreed with that. After we had that talk, he played two of his best games off the bench. I think Courtney will be in good shape with [wherever he plays]."
* PLAYING 48 MINUTES: The Celtics have been prone to an in-game lull in each of their five preseason losses. Stevens has noted his team is playing 38 minutes right now, and he needs 48 out of them. Asked about that struggle to put together a full game, Gerald Wallace said, "I think it’s lackadaisical, I think a lot of guys are not coming in focused. You got a lot of guys that are not used to starting, not used to have that main role. It’s going to be different, they are going to have to change their approach to the game, understand what it takes to start a game. You have to bring that energy, you have to get your team going right off the bat. It’s going to come in time." Wallace spent the end of Saturday's practice running with a starting group that included Bradley, Lee, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger.
* WHAT ELSE?: After three days off since their last game, it will be interesting to see what translates from the practice floor to the court for Boston... Will coach Stevens extend minutes at all as the regular season nears? ... MarShon Brooks scored a team-high 17 points over 19:32 last time out and could see quality time again, especially if Pressey sits... Kris Humphries should be back after missing the last game with a sore left foot.
Even playing without their stars -- as Boston did on Monday night in Minnesota without Garnett and Paul Pierce, who wasn't with the team due to personal reasons -- the Celtics should be better than what they've shown. Alas, Boston gets some benefit of the doubt -- even as the losses mount -- because of how shorthanded it has been and even the most critical of observers has to focus on the individual gains over the team accomplishments. That's not to absolve Boston from its woeful team play, but the focus over these final games is clearly not on identifying new lineup combinations.
So if you're looking for one silver lining to help forget how Nikolva Pekovic shredded Boston's interior defense Monday night, scoring 21 of his game-high 29 points in the first half, remember that Avery Bradley scored a team-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting and showed encouraging signs of emerging from his offensive funk.
Once dubbed the Celtics' savior for spearheading the team's turnaround with his defensive efforts, Bradley is now relegated to the second most popular athlete in town with the surname Bradley (nice debut, JBJ). He's slumped badly over the last three weeks, averaging 7.6 points while shooting 32.3 percent from the field (43 of 133) and 30.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (8 of 26) over a 13-game span starting March 6 in Indiana.
So determined to pull Bradley from his slump, the Celtics have designed their first offensive play of the game to go through him -- a rarity -- in recent outings. Coming off a Chris Wilcox screen on the left wing on Monday night, Bradley drilled a 19-foot jumper 17 seconds in and it sure seemed to light a wet fuse.
Bradley finished 8-of-14 shooting (57.1 percent) with 19 points -- his first double-digit scoring output since the Bobcats visited on March 16 -- to go along with two assists over 30:19.
"I think that's five games in a row we've run the first play for him," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "And finally he came up with a jumper. I just really believe he needed it to go in, that shot. I told him after the game, his arc was back on his shot, it wasn't flat. So that was good to see. I think that will make him a better defender too; he'll be able to relax."
After missing the first 30 games of the season while rehabbing from double shoulder surgery, Bradley's return helped Boston get back to being a defense-first team. Even though his recent offensive woes have contributed to a slight defensive dip, Bradley still tops the NBA in individual defense (among those with at least 400 possessions defended), allowing 0.698 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Opponents are shooting a league-low 31.1 percent against him.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic feasted on Boston's depleted frontcourt depth, posting a game-high 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting (21 of those points came in the first half before Boston started trapping after the intermission). Dante Cunningham added 19 off the bench, while Andrei Kirilenko had 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting for the Wolves. Avery Bradley came out aggressive and scored a team-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting (an encouraging sign given his recent offensive funk), while Jason Terry and Terrence Williams had 14 points apiece off the pine for a Boston team playing without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
After trailing by as much as 14 in the third quarter, the Celtics trimmed their deficit down to six before the end of the frame. But a little 5-0 burst to start the fourth quarter pushed Minnesota's lead right back to double-digits and it was rarely a game again. Derrick Williams buried a 3-pointer on Minnesota's first possession of the final quarter and Cunningham added a layup as the Wolves opened an 89-78 lead. Boston rarely got it back to single figures the rest of the way.
THE LAST TIME?
The Celtics had won 11 straight over the Timberwolves entering Monday's game, including all 10 meetings between the teams since Garnett was dealt from Minnesota. The Wolves' last win? You'd have to go back to Feb. 11, 2007. Old friend Ricky Davis scored a team-high 28 points and Garnett added 26 points and 10 rebounds to pace Minnesota that night, while Boston got a game-high 29 points from Pierce. Most notably, it was the Celtics' 18th consecutive loss that season, setting a franchise record.
GREEN PLAYS THROUGH PAIN
Celtics forward Jeff Green appeared to get kneed in the thigh on a second-half drive to the basket. He stayed in the game and tried to play through the pain. He had a quiet night overall with 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists, and five turnovers in 38 minutes. [Update: After the game, coach Doc Rivers said Green was "fine" and noted that Green, to his knowledge, did just get kneed in the thigh; also updated Green's stat line, which inadvertently had just first half stats originally.]
WHAT IT MEANS
End-of-the-regular-season basketball, it's faaaaaantastic! The Celtics have now lost seven of their last nine and, coupled with Milwaukee's 130+ point outburst against Charlotte, will see the Bucks climb 1½ games back of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston has been woeful defensively without Kevin Garnett (left ankle inflammation); take out Paul Pierce (Not With Team -- Personal Reasons) and all hell broke loose at that end of the floor (Boston did put up triple figures without two top offensive weapons, shooting 51.9 percent overall). There's work to be done to protect that seventh spot, but the schedule remains forgiving moving forward. The Celtics return to Boston for a four-game homestand that opens on Wednesday night with a visit from the Detroit Pistons. The focus for Boston without its stars is clearly on individual work, but the inability to steal games against lesser competition -- even without stars -- has to be discouraging while waiting for the postseason to arrive.
The team classified Pierce's absence as being for personal reasons. Coach Doc Rivers had strongly hinted after Sunday's loss in New York that Pierce, who iced a sore right ankle on the bench during the fourth quarter against the Knicks, would not play in Minnesota.
Courtney Lee is expected to rejoin the starting lineup and start alongside Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox.
Celtics center Kevin Garnett remains out due to left ankle inflammation.
This is the second game that Pierce has missed this season, also sitting out a game in Charlotte last month.
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