In desperate need of some kind of positive momentum heading into the play-in tournament, the Boston Celtics used the Minnesota Timberwolves as their personal punching bag Saturday afternoon. Minnesota seemed completely disinterested in playing any defense at all, and Boston took advantage the whole afternoon to one of their more impressive offensive performances of the past few weeks.
The first few minutes of this game were concerning, looking like the Celtics were going to continue their habit of just getting completely demolished in afternoon games. It took Boston almost three minutes to score their first points, with the Timberwolves jumping out to a 7-0 lead in that time. From there, however, the Celtics controlled the rest of the frame, outscoring Minnesota 37-19 the rest of the way. Minnesota didn’t really put up any defensive resistance, so Boston did whatever they wanted to on the offensive end.
The second quarter was much of the same, with Boston once again handling the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell spent most of Minnesota’s offensive possessions just dribbling around before throwing up a bad shot, and neither looked like they were very interested in passing the ball once they got it. It’s been a tough season for the Wolves, and they’re surely just looking forward to the offseason, but the basketball they played today was very selfish, and the lack of results showed that. Boston’s lead continued to grow, and they took a 66-47 lead into the break.
Boston’s first half lead was built on the back of some good defense, and some terrible shooting by Minnesota, as well as they obvious solid offensive execution that is required to score 66 points in a half. Romeo Langford, who has played well when given the chance in the second half of this year, contributed to the defensive tone with plays like this for an easy layup, while Payton Pritchard lived up to his reputation as a guy who can hit the deep three with a couple tough shots in the first half.
Jayson Tatum led the way for Boston in the first half with 14 points, with Evan Fournier right behind him with 12. These past few games have been solid jumping blocks for Fournier, as he has been open in his struggles to return from COVID-19, but he’s played well recently. These two would go on to finish with 26 and 18, respectively, so the fact that they petitioned coach Brad Stevens to let them play to develop a rhythm looks good so far. Tatum had one of the highlight plays of the game on a nice drive to the rim that he finished with an and-one dunk.
In the second half, though the Wolves would make a couple of small runs to get as close as 11, the Celtics basically cruised to victory, something that seems foreign for a team that has struggled as badly as the C’s have recently. Yes, Minnesota is not a good team at all, but Boston hasn’t exactly been playing like a good team either. By the time the Celtics reserves closed out the game, the final score read 124-108 and Boston finally, finally, has to be feeling good after a solid all-around performance.
Going back to Evan Fournier for a second, he’s quietly turned into the guy that Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens thought they would be getting when they acquired him at the trade deadline. His efficiency has been climbing for the last few weeks, and his secondary scoring behind Jayson Tatum has been a huge addition for this team. A potential starting lineup with all three of Jaylen Brown, Tatum, and Fournier healthy next season is highly intriguing, so hopefully Danny Ainge is able to maneuver his way around the salary cap to bring back the French wing.
Tremont Waters took advantage of his chance at more playing time today with most of the C’s regulars not making the trip. He put up 14 points and 7 assists, and it felt like he wasn’t overmatched when he was out there. He plays the game at his own pace and distributes the ball well to open teammates, setting them up for easy shots. While he may not crack the playoff rotation, it certainly looks like he could absorb some backup minutes next season at the worst.
Up next for Boston is their regular season finale against the New York Knicks on Sunday at 1pm, the second half of this season-ending back-to-back. This game has no real meaning to the C’s, so it would be surprising to see players like Tatum or Fournier play much, if at all. If anything, maybe just some early run in the first and third quarters, just to keep them in rhythm, but getting some rest is more important for those guys at this point. Going into the play-in riding a mini winning streak would be nice, so hopefully the C’s play the same type of game they did today. This is the effort that will be required once the playoffs start, or else Boston’s stay in them will be a short one.
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