Celtics vs. Minnesota Timberwolves  Friday, Dec 20, 2002  7:30pm
Tonight's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves came a couple of days after Boston Celtics had managed to embarrass themselves in two consecutive games this week.

Minnesota would hardly be the easy target that had presented itself in the form of Atlanta and Chicago; the Timberwolves were going to have to be taken seriously, if Boston wanted to win this game.  There was no secret game plan to follow, the Celtics simply had to play the way they were capable of playing.

I had a feeling that it was not going to take long to see whether or not the Celtics were taking this game seriously.  Tony Battie says is recovered from the flu, and Tony Delk says the tendonitis is sufficiently behaved to allow him to play.  Both men started this evening.

It was pointed out the last six games between these two teams at all been decided by less than six points.
 

First quarter:
 

The Celtics defense was sufficient on the first possession to force a 24-second violation.  The Celtics then ran the fast break, resulting in a 2-0 lead.  For the first time in three games Tony Battie went in on defense and had some help, notably on one occasion where Paul Pierce came in on the weak side.  This was a good sign, as it meant to the Celtics were getting back to their basics of playing tough team defense.

Unfortunately, the Celtics were having trouble with Kevin Garnett--he was too big to defend adequately and made it look easy going to the basket.

Tony Delk made his presence known by hitting a nice three behind a screen.  The Celtics seemed to be able to defend against Minnesota's outside shots, but if Minnesota got the bowl inside, the Celtics had all kinds of problems.  The Celtics offense still needs to work on their fast break, as the game had developed into run and gun on both sides.  Unfortunately, Minnesota had more accurate guns at this point of the game.

Pierce was running up to court nicely, on those occasions when people were able to get the ball out to him quickly.  Antoine Walker took the ball in smartly, with good help from Tony Battie.  The Celtics seemed to be slowly coming out of their shooting slump.

Tony Delk made a beautiful behind the back pass to Eric Williams, who unfortunately was not able to create a good shot out of it.  But at least they've got the right idea.  Paul Pierce showed all kinds of hustle and effort, first by getting a defensive rebound, then passing the ball up to the open man, then by grabbing an out of bounds rebound.  If only he had some help.  The timeout was called with 5:04 to go, and Minnesota leading 14-10.  At this point Boston was 4-13, from the field; while Minnesota was 6-15.

Minnesota seemed to be able to get the ball into Garnett, who could score at will.

The Celtics were committing too many turnovers in the first quarter.  Their defense, largely helped by Paul Pierce, was getting going.   But they were having trouble finishing at the other end.  Vin Baker had come in, and immediately went to the free throw line after being fouled.  Unfortunately, Baker’s free throws have not improved any in recent days.  He went 1-2.  Phooey!

Kevin Garnett was turning into a one man wrecking crew, and the Celtics didn't seem to be able to stop him.  Conversely, the Celtics could not seem to get a break on the offense either from the opposition, or the officials.  Boston had four turnovers in the opening quarter, and it wasn't over yet.  Antoine Walker drew the defense under the hoop, and sliced the ball out to Walter McCarty, who shot an open three.

Minnesota was still getting too many easy baskets, and Celtics had yet to find an answer.  Minnesota's defense, on the other hand, seemed able to force the Celtics into tough shots every time up the floor.  Their interior defense was good enough that it was going to force Boston to make those outside shots the Good Guys are famous for.  With 1:56 to go, the Minnesota lead was three points as a timeout was called.

After the timeout, the Celtics looked ahead and fired a pass to Pierce, as he made the shot in the open court.  Of last, something resembling a fast break!

Baker got a steal, passed to Pierce, who got the pumpkin to Walter McCarty for the slam.  I love Walter!  Well, I platonically appreciate him.  After all, Tommy saw him first.  The first quarter ended with the Timberwolves leading by one point, 22-21.

The Celtics had played adequate defense in the first quarter, the only drawback being their inability to stop Kevin Garden at once he got inside.  But they were fighting for the rebounds, and getting more of them than they had recently.  Offensively, they were gradually starting to get it together after a very shaky start.  Boston shot 36%, Minnesota shot 43% in the quarter.   Minnesota out rebounded Boston 14-12 in the first quarter.
 
 

Second-quarter:

Boston took its first lead on Paul Pierce free throws, 25-24.  To Celtics were passing the ball around better, looking for the open man on offense.  But Minnesota had two consecutive possessions where on the first possession, they got inside past the Celtics defense, and a second time shot a wide-open three.  But Walter McCarty demonstrated he could also shoot the three.  Walter then made the steal, and got it up to Pierce, who was fouled on his way to the basket.  The timeout was called with 8:22 to go and the Timberwolves leading 31-30.

After the timeout, Antoine Walker made his presence known with a shot, as Paul Pierce got a break on bench after his hard work to this point.  Shammond Williams got the ball on aggressive defense with a steal leading to any easy open basket.

Shammond also made another one of those catch and shoot shots.  The faster passing was the only way to try to beat the Minnesota defense.  Passes probably needed to be just a little but faster, as Minnesota moved very quickly to rotate on their defense.  There weren't going to be any long openings, unless someone missed a defensive assignment.  This meant the catch and shoot was going to be very prominent in some of the offensive sets.  This is an ideal situation for Shammond Williams.
 

Minnesota was 7-11; Boston was 7-12 from the field so far.

Tony Delk seems to be hitting the three-point shot without a great deal of difficulty.  As the second-quarter round down, both teams were running and playing hard.  Walker made a nice drop-off pass to Eric Williams on one trip resulting a basket.  If the Celtics could run a little faster on offense  in general, they'd get a lot more easy baskets like that one.

Boston led Minnesota on fast break points 11-7.  Another fast break resulted in a foul going in, but Paul Pierce was right behind for the slam if the foul had not been called.  With 2:57 to go a timeout was called.  The score was 44-43, Boston leading.  After the timeout, Eric Williams went to the line, making both.  Antoine Walker made a really cool pass right around Kevin Garnett, to Eric Williams who was fouled on the way up.  Back at the free for a line, Eric bounced the first one in, and made the second smartly.

Antoine Walker went hard on the offensive boards, putting a shot in for two from his hard work.  But Minnesota answered, mostly through Kevin Garnett.  Tony Delk seemed to have the outside shot really going tonight.  Tony Battie was on the bench that this point, obviously still suffering some of the effects of the flu.  But Paul Pierce seemed to be making up the differences he had a three-point shot.  He had 16 points and halftime had been quite arrived yet.  But Garnett made another catch and dunk, once again showing that if they get the ball to him inside, he scores.

Pierce took the ball deep into the basket once more, getting fouled as he put the ball through the net. This was shaping up by far to be the best Celtics quarter and best half they'd played in the last three games.  The halftime ended with the Boston Celtics holding a lead of 63-55.

Halftime

Cookie break!

Now this is more like it!  The Celtics were starting to play much better defense, with everybody helping out.  Their offense still needed some work, but was infinitely better than it has been in recent games.  The main defensive problem so far was Garnett, with Nesterovic a close second.  No one seems to be able to keep them from putting the ball in once KG gets delivered the ball near the basket.

The Celtics played harder, smarter, and faster than they have in a week.  This resulted in the first time in recent memory in which they've held a compelling lead at the end of any quarter of play.  In order to keep things that way, they would have to come out in the third quarter and play consistently good offensive basketball.  They would also have to tighten the defensive screws, especially on KG.

They had done a good job, but Minnesota is no easy team.  There were going to have to come out and play even harder in order to keep Minnesota on the ropes.

While Boston had scored over 60 points in the first half, the Minnesota Timberwolves had shot at 55% during the same period of time.  You don’t win many games that way.  Minnesota also held a 22-20 lead in paint points; both of these problems were largely due to KG continuing to work his way inside.  The Celtics simply had to stop him before he single-handedly decimated the Celtics.  But Boston held the edge in the three point shot, going 9-16, while the Timberwolves went 2-4.  That was going to be one of the two key elements in this game for the Celtics.  Boston had a slim 20-19 edge in rebounds, and a more impressive 13-7 lead in fast break points.  They’d also capitalized on Timberwolf turnovers, garnering 18 points that way.
 

Cookie Break!!
 

Third Quarter:

Nesterovic had done a job on the Celtics.  On a steal Paul Pierce made a nice bounce pass to Eric Williams, who was fouled going to the net.  Eric was spending a lot of time at the free throw line tonight, and so for was doing well.  He did well here too, making both free throws.  The Celtics had opened a 10-point lead, for the first time in recent memory.

Antoine Walker tried to sneak a pass out from the double team to Tony Battie, but it didn't look like Battie ever saw the ball coming.  On the next play down, Walker tried another pass that got knocked out of bounds.  But at least the Celtics were starting to look up court, and go for the easy hoop before the defense got back.  Minnesota called a 20-second timeout with 10:33 to go, and Boston leading 66-55.

Boston was now on a 25-12 run, courtesy of another Paul Pierce free throw.  But now the Celtics would have to complement offense with defense, and make sure Minnesota did not make a run.  Tony Battie didn't look quite a hundred percent, although much improved from the previous game.  Eric Williams somehow did not get a foul called when he went to the hoop and got thrown to the floor.

So far the third quarter was not good for Boston offensively.  They had yet to score a field goal with over four minutes gone by.  This was allowing Minnesota to get back into the game.  That was something that simply could not be allowed if the Celtics wanted to win.  Minnesota made a 6-0 run, and showed every sign of increasing that as the clock wound down towards seven minutes to go.  A timeout was called with 7:02 to go and Boston's lead cut to four points, 67-63.

The Celtics just couldn’t seem to hit a basket from the field no matter what they did.  Their offense was good, and they passed well, but just couldn’t seem to finish.  The Timberwolves took advantage of this as Garnett went to the line with 5:29 to go, and tied the game at 68.

Gary Trent fired the ball up in the air (which, had a Boston player done so, a “T” would have been called).  But hey, the refs were nice tonight.

The Celtics offense went nowhere until there was 4:20 to go, when Shammond Williams hit another catch and shoot shot to at last give the Celtics a field goal in the quarter.  The Celtics played much tougher on defense, and were getting the vast majority of their points from the free throw line in this quarter.  A timeout was called with 3:54 to go, and Boston leading 73-70.

Following the timeout, Pierce once again went to the line, and was single-handedly keeping up the offensive pressure from the line.  But Minnesota wasn’t about to lie down and die for a team that got waxed by Chicago and Atlanta in a three-day stretch.  With 2:30 to go, the game was once again tied, until Paul Pierce went to the hoop for a slam that turned Joe Smith into a poster candidate.  One free throw later, the Good Guys held a three point lead.  Shammond Williams tied up a ball for a jump but there was a violation on the jump when the ball hit the floor.  After the Celtics—mainly Waltah!- forced a 24-second violation, Boston held a 78-75 lead as a there was 1:20 left.

Minnesota tied the game with one minute to go at 78.  Boston then took the ball up court, looking to regain the lead once more.  Walter McCarty made that happen on an open three, after Shammond drew the defense in to the hoop.  Paul Pierce had ended the third-quarter 12-12 free throws to this point in the game, while the Celtics ended the third quarter with an 83-80 lead.
 
 

Fourth Quarter:

The game showed every sign of staying close as the fourth quarter got underway.  The Celtics were outdoing Minnesota at the free throw line, which was the major reason for their maintaining the lead at this point in the game.  Unfortunately Boston then committed its 15th turnover, still much more than they really should be doing at this point in the season.

The Celtics had a nice offensive set, passing the ball quickly to an open Tony Delk, who unfortunately missed the wide-open shot.  He's got to shoot those a little more consistently, if he wants to draw the double teams away from Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker.

A timeout was called with 8:53 to go and Minnesota leading 88-85.

As play progressed, Delk got the ball out to Pierce, and Paul responded by hitting the three.  Minnesota could not answer, and Antoine Walker tore down the rebound and brought it up court.  His shot did not go, but the Celtics showed that they were going to do what they could do in this game, as a timeout was called with 6:53 to go, and Boston leading 91-88.

Following the timeout Boston made the defensive stop, but was not able to score.  Thus it fell back to their defense, which this time did not stop Minnesota.  Pierce drove to the hoop and got fouled yet again, putting him back to the line once more.  Given the fact that he was shooting much better from the free THROW line than from the three POINT line, you think they'd leave him alone.  Pierce hit both - again, giving Boston a 93-90 lead with 5:50 to go.

Pierce sent in the three-pointer, showing that he was heating up in the fourth-quarter once again.  He had 38 points, and that made the 13th three-point shot for Boston in this game.  But Minnesota quieted the crowd quickly, by responding with basket of their own.  Shammond Williams, hit another catch and shoot (from Paul Pierce) Shot.

The Celtics defense was playing much tighter, but Antoine Walker was called for a foul as he was getting a good clean strip of the ball.  The Celtics forced Minnesota into a shot clock shot, the missing of which was rebounded by Tony Battie.

Anton Walker hit both his free throws, giving the Celtics a 101-94 lead with 3:22 to go.

Free throws.  I complained about free throws a lot, especially when Boston missed them.  Tonight, the Celtics were hitting them very consistently, and that made the difference in this game.

As time slowly wound down, Kevin Garnett bounced the ball off the scorers table, the second time he could easily have been called for technical file and wasn't.  It would be nice if the Celtics got that kind of slack once awhile.  Shammond went to the free throw line, making one of two.  Finally, ironically, a technical was called—double “T”’s against Shammond and Garnett.  After the timeout it was explained to the officials that Shammond and Garnett were cousins, and had just been jawing in each other friendly manner.  The Technicals were erased.

The Celtics offense looked a little unsettled on one possession, then sent it to Pierce, who nailed a three-point shot as the shot clock ran down.  Paul Pierce had scored over 40 points as Boston held the lead 104-95 with one minute remaining in the game.

After the timeout Minnesota took the ball inbounds and the Celtics had to play tough defense without fouling.  Unfortunately Kevin Garnett got the ball, went to the hoop, and took the fifth follow on Antoine Walker.  It wasn't a shooting foul, so Minnesota took it inbounds, and tried to shoot again.  This time they got the basket.

With 41 seconds to go, Paul Pierce was fouled at half court, as the parade to the free throw line began.  Paul Pierce actually missed a free throw; the first time tonight he did so.

Antoine Walker fouled out of the game with 40 seconds to go, as Kevin Garnett went to the free throw line, making both.  The Celtics took the ball inbounds, getting it over half court to Tony Delk, who was fouled with 33.2 seconds left.  The score was now 105-99.  Delk was at the free throw line for the first time this evening, and calmly sank both of them.  Minnesota brought the ball back up, but Paul Pierce stole the ball, and they fouled him with 20.2 seconds to go

Pierce missed one of his two free throws; making him 16-18 for the night, Minnesota missed a shot, and the Celtics rebounded to dribble out of the clock.  The Boston Celtics won a well-played game, 108-99.

I told you so.  I like saying that, so I'll say it again.

I told you so.

The Celtics won this game at the free throw line in the second quarter.  They had gained the lead through their shooting in the second quarter—especially at the arc, but after halftime they got nothing from the field.  Their points came from the free throw line.  In the fourth quarter, with the game on the line and Minnesota making a run, the Celtics got their points by going to the free throw line and making their shots.  Paul Pierce led the way.  He had an All-Star kind of night, and I hope this makes a definite impression on those who are voting in the upcoming All-Star game.  It was a great game.

Boston ended up with 13 offensive rebounds and 17 second chance points.  That meant they were going to the hoop, and making the most of it.

Minnesota actually out shot Boston overall, going 41-85 for 48%; while the C’s went 31-76 for 40%.  But beyond the arc, it was a different story.  Boston was 14-32 for 43% on the three, while Minnesota was 2-12 for 16%.  That was the first main difference.  The second main difference came at the free throw line.  Boston was 32-37 for 86%.  Minnesota was better percentage wise, going 93%, but on 15-16 free throws.  That means Boston had a 17-point lead on made free throws; or, led by more free throws than Minnesota attempted.  The Celtics also out rebounded Minnesota 44-39; 13-9 on offensive rebounds.

Were it not for the free throws, Boston would have had a horrendous third quarter.  That saved their green butts.  Paul Pierce emerged from his slump, and Walker was directing the offense well.  Boston still needs to work on the fast break, and learn to look for the outlet passes.  But this is miles ahead of both games this week.

HEROES AND ZEROS:

Heroes:

Paul Pierce:  42 points on 11-25 shooting, 50% from the arc, 16-18 at the free throw line, 4 assists, 4 steals, and a block.  That’s the Pierce we all want to go to the All-Star Game.

Walter McCarty: 14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals.  In 20 minutes.  Very nice work.

Antoine Walker: 13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks.

Tony Delk: 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals.

Shammond Williams: 12 points, 3 assists.

Eric Williams: 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 7-7 at the free throw line.

The Celtics free throw shooting:  Now, this is more like it.

The Celtics shooting in the 2nd quarter:  hey, they had 42 points in 12 minutes.  that's always good, especially, when the opposition only scores 55 in the entire half.

Zeros:

Vin Baker: 1 point, 1 steal, 1 assist, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls.  That’s just not good enough anymore, Vinnie.  We expect more.

The Celtics field goal percentage in the third quarter:  I’ve come to expect a third quarter scoring drought.  That doesn’t mean I LIKE it.

The Good Guys play again Saturday night, before getting their brief Christmas break.  This was a start.  Let’s see them dominate the next game and give Celtics fans a really nice present.

And that’s the view from the doghouse.
1st Q 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q Final
Timberwolves 22 33 25 19 99
Celtics 21 42 20 25 108