Well that was a wild ride wasn’t it? In arguably the craziest game of the Celtics season, they turned a 19 point deficit into and 11 point lead, only to blow that lead late in the fourth and watch the game go to overtime. Thankfully, the Celtics didn’t fully collapse, and they were able to fully pull away from Minnesota in overtime, with the final score coming in at 145-136. Jayson Tatum had a career game, dropping a 53 point double-double, while Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart chipped in 20+ points themselves.
It looked like the same old 2021 Celtics for most of the first half. They let the Timberwolves go on a 20-7 run to end the first quarter, leading to a 39-25 score at the end of one. The Celtics would remain at a double digit deficit for most of the second quarter, before Kemba Walker finally cut the lead to 9 with a pair of free throws just before the half. The Celtics were vastly outplayed for most of the first half on the both ends of the court, as the offensive attack was ridiculously sloppy, leading to way too many easy buckets for Minnesota on the other end. Even in full court sets, Minnesota was finding way to many open looks, and seemed to hit every shot they took.
The Celtics came out slow in the second half, letting the deficit balloon up to 17, before turning up the heat midway through the quarter. Despite some questionable calls going against them, the Celtics quickly shifted the momentum in the game in the third quarter, as their intensity ramped up on both ends of the court. Jayson Tatum led the Celtics late surge at the end of the quarter, and ended up with 17 points in the third quarter alone, putting him at nearly 40 heading into the fourth quarter.
That led to the eventful fourth quarter. It started off quite well, as Boston turned their 5 point deficit into an 11 point lead with about 3 minutes left to go. Then things started to fall apart. With the score sitting at 122-111, the game seemed as good as over, only for the Timberwolves to pull off a 13-2 run and force overtime. The Celtics seemed to think the game was over, and tried to force feed Jayson Tatum the ball so he could get to 50 points. On the other end, the defense just left D’Angelo Russel and Karl-Anthony Towns wide open at three, and allowed them to shoot their way back into the game. Russell would hit a bank shot three over Grant Williams to force overtime, with Tatum unable to convert the game winning shot on the other end afterwards.
Well the Celtics wanted Tatum to get to 50, and he accomplished it in the overtime period. The Celtics fell behind early, but then passed around the Timberwolves to get Kemba Walker a couple of wide open threes he would bury, giving Boston a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of overtime. The Celtics showed some great resolve to not let this game get away from them, especially at the end when they allowed the lead to vanish.
In a game as crazy as this, there are certainly going to be some positives and negatives that come out of it. Easily the biggest positive takeaway was Tatum’s performance, as he dominated the Timberwolves and helped the Celtics claw their way back into this one. Without Tatum, this game almost certainly slips away from Boston during the second and third quarters. Tatum didn’t settle for his usual array of tough mid ranges and three point shots, and seemed determined to get to the rim more often than usual tonight. That mindset led to him getting a season high 16 free throws on the season, which is a department the Celtics have been lacking in as a team for most of the season. It’s clear that when Tatum searches for the best possible shot, he’s able to play up to his full potential.
The big negative though is how the Celtics handled the fourth quarter. We saw this a lot last season, particularly in their Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Miami Heat, where the Celtics would go up late in the fourth and take their foot off the gas, allowing teams to come back in the game. The game isn’t over until the final whistle blows, but the Celtics seemed to think their 11 point lead meant they had already won. They need to develop that killer instinct to fully put teams out of the game right at the end instead of allowing them to stick around, as it could result in some big losses down the stretch.
Undoubtedly this game will go down as a positive as a result of the final outcome, and now the Celtics will look to keep it up with a mini three game road trip out west. Up first is the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, as the Celtics will look to take down Nikola Jokic and co. Jokic is one of the front runners for the MVP award this season, and his multi-faceted game will surely give the Celtics fits in this one. They can really start to get going if they are able to pick up a win over the Nuggets, but slowing down Jokic and Jamal Murray will be no easy task.
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