There was a heightened level of jubilation among the Boston Celtics players and coaches following a thrilling come-from-behind win at Minnesota on Monday.
Boston fell behind by as many as 15 points, trailed by 13 going into the fourth and still managed to rally for a 99-93 win to become the first team this season to trail by 13 or more points to start the fourth quarter and wind up winning the game.
But as impressive as the comeback was, there’s an obvious question that’s out there.
Why did they let themselves get down by so many points so late in the game to a Timberwolves (4-9) team that hasn’t been very good this season?
The Celtics were minus-17 on the boards through the first three quarters of play. During that span, the Timberwolves were shooting 50.8 percent from the field while Minnesota had attempted 24 free throws compared to just four for the Celtics.
But that all changed in the fourth when it was the Celtics (15-10) winning the battle on the glass, limited Minnesota to just 20 percent shooting (5-for-25) from the field and went to the free throw line 10 times compared to just one free throw attempt for the Timberwolves.
“We did better (in the fourth) and had enough in the tank to get the win,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterwards.
Here are five more takeaways from the Celtics' win at Minnesota, their first since 2012.
HORFORD EFFECT UNDENIABLE
You knew Al Horford was going to have a positive effect on this team, but few would have envisioned this. With Horford in the lineup, the Celtics have a 4-1 record. Not only is he doing many of the things you expect a player making $113 million should do, but he’s also elevating the play of those around him. There was the game-winning put-back basket at Detroit that moments later, was followed by a game-securing blocked shot. And on Monday in Minnesota, he wisely deflected a bad pass to him in the post out to Marcus Smart for a 3-pointer that put Boston ahead by four points during a strong surge in the fourth. You can make an argument that there are other Celtics who might be better players, but as we’ve seen no one means as much to this team’s success in terms of winning, as Horford who has had consecutive games of at least 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots which hasn’t happened since Paul Pierce did it in 2002.
BENCH TAKING SHAPE
The second unit has taken some heat this season for not playing as well as needed, but there are signs that this group is starting to figure out what they need to do, to be impactful. Terry Rozier had 12 points on Monday, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. Jonas Jerebko played the entire fourth quarter due to his hustle, scrappiness and help on the boards. Marcus Smart ripping into this teammates at the end of the third quarter was seen by a number of Celtics as a catalyst to the win. With a roster that’s relatively healthy, guys are starting to fall into the roles that they will be called upon to play this season which should make for improved play by Boston going forward.
SECOND HALF DEFENSE
If this team is to have any shot at advancing past what they did a year ago, they have to pick things up defensively. We saw that in the second half on Monday, a game in which Boston’s defense paved the way for their come-from-behind victory. Boston’s defensive rating for the second half of Monday’s game was 83.9 which was the third-best defensive rating for that day of games. Both players and coaches for the Celtics will tell you they have a ways to go defensively. But finishing off the Timberwolves being sparked by the defense, is indeed a step in the right direction.
BRADLEY ADJUSTMENT WITH HORFORD, CROWDER RETURNS
Avery Bradley seems to be the one Celtics starter most impacted by the return of Al Horford and Jae Crowder to the starting lineup. In the last two games, Bradley has averaged 13 points while taking 11 shots from the field per game. Prior to that, he was averaging 18.3 points while taking 15.9 shots per game. His numbers may have taken a dip, but it has been worth it on two fronts. For starters, they’ve won both games. But for Bradley, fewer touches has made him a more efficient shooter. He’s shooting 50 percent (11-for-22) from the field in the last two games compared to 46.1 percent (88-for-191) through the first 12 games.
MARCUS SMART’S LEADERSHIP
One of the more pivotal moments in the game didn’t involve a rebound or points scored. It was Smart’s rant to his teammates on the sideline at the end of the third quarter that they were in effect, “getting punked” by the Timberwolves. Smart challenged their pride and compete level, and they responded with a strong finish to the game – exactly what Smart was looking for. It was an occasion when Smart’s volatile nature worked out well both for him and the Celtics who went on to win the game and just as important, responded to Smart’s challenge.