Minnesota Timberwolves 94 – Boston Celtics 104

The Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Boston on Wednesday night for the tail end of their back-to-back road trip in what was to be an exciting matchup against the franchise’s former poster boy, Kevin Garnett. The Wolves, never having defeated Boston since the blockbuster trade that sent “The Big Ticket” out east, entered the TD Garden the night after an 18-point win over Philadelphia in which the team sank 13 three-pointers. However, last night’s blessings did not hold true and the Timberpups fell to the Celtics 104-94.

This game ultimately came down to defense and free throw shooting. The Pups had a miserable night at the charity stripe, only converting on 14 of their 30 attempts. Having lost the game by 10 points, it is very concerning when the entire team missed a total of 16 free throws and shooting under 50% from the free throw line. It is pretty tough to win a game when you are unable to take advantage of points handed to you from the opposing team, especially in a very tough road environment. It also did not help that Andrei Kirilenko was once again unavailable due to back spasms.

A main storyline of tonight’s game was the frontcourt matchup of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic against Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. Minnesota’s frontcourt was largely expected to dominate the game in the paint, but the ageless KG was once again able to overpower Love while forcing turnovers out of the Pups’ bigs. At age 36, Garnett played an extremely efficient 27 minutes and finished the game with 18 points (8-13 FG), 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers.

On the other end, K-Love had a game to forget as he turned the ball over 5 times while missing 6 of his 12 free throw attempts. Love did far too much arguing with referees and far too little of hustling back on defense. The All-Star PF looked clearly rattled in his matchup against KG, and should definitely be criticized for his effort on the defensive end. As I have stated before, one blatant difference separating Love from Garnett is KG’s devotion to the defensive side of the ball, whereas Love has been a marginal to poor defender his entire career to date. Yes, Love lacks the athleticism that had previously made KG such an imposing defender. But at age 36, Garnett no longer has the same bounce and agility that he once did, and it could be argued that Love is currently better suited to be a great defender than KG himself. The lack of effort on defense is what continues to keep Love from achieving the ultimate superstardom that KG previously attained.

Fresh off his two-game suspension, PG Rajon Rondo returned to Boston’s starting lineup against the Wolves in what promised to be a significant mismatch against Minnesota PGs Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea. Rondo, one of the quickest players in the NBA, did an excellent job of penetrating and kicking out of the Timberwolves half-court defense. Rondo finished with 17 points and 11 assists in 38 minutes.

Boston did a masterful job hard-hedging off screens and effectively slowed down Minnesota’s pick-and-roll game. Boston’s compensated for their lack of dominant interior defense by their tremendous use of double-teaming and excellent defensive rotations. As all Doc Rivers’ teams do, the Celtics were persistent closing out shots and were able to get a hand in Wolves players faces all night.

The Timberwolves headed into the locker room at halftime with a 51-47 lead, while having only converted on 7 of their 14 free throw attempts. Minnesota held the advantage on turnovers, as the Celtics committed 10 to only 5 Pups turnovers. KG got hot early defended by Love, and used his signature turnaround to drain non-defendable 10-footers over his successor.

The Pups did a very poor job of boxing out in the second half and allowed far too many second chance opportunities. Rookie Jared Sullinger was one of the main beneficiaries of Minnesota’s rebounding struggles, as he provided 7 points and 7 rebounds in a productive 18 minutes off the bench.

Few players impressed me tonight, the first being Nikola Pekovic. Pek countered double-teams on the low post with smart kick outs to the perimeter, and did not record a single turnover in 32 minutes of action. Minnesota’s starting center finished the game with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals.

Another player who has really impressed me these past few weeks has been Josh Howard, who after recording a double-double last night provided 12 points and no turnovers tonight. Howard has done a remarkable job getting an arm in passing lanes and was able to provide 3 steals in 33 minutes.

I could dissect this game and individual performances as long as I want to, but it seems like that would be unfair given the nature of this game. Yes, the Wolves were not going to shoot 60% again tonight, and in fact they really struggled. The missed free throws seemed to be a chain reaction as once Love started missing them, everyone followed suit. What bothers me most about tonight is K-Love’s pouting and lack of effort on defense. He is getting to the point in his career where he needs to recognize that in order to be truly dominant, he needs to become at least an above-average defender. Here are my three stars of the game:

  1. Kevin Garnett
  2. Jason Terry
  3. Rajon Rondo