BOSTON – It’s hard to not look at what Tom Thibodeau has done with his Minnesota team and not appreciate how he’s guided them from Timberpups to full-grown, butt-kicking, pain-in-the-you-know-what ballers who have beaten some of the best teams in the NBA lately.
That’s why Boston’s 117-104 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday is a bigger win than you think.
There are few teams playing better at both ends of the floor since the All-Star break, than the Timberwolves.
But that didn’t matter to the Celtics.
They have talked the talk about being a defensive-minded, get-after-it kind of club for months.
Well, talking time is over. It’s about getting it done. And as we’ve seen recently, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
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For most of this season, they have won by simply outscoring teams with a barrage of 3-pointers that has shattered several franchise records on offense.
But as much as the fans love to see the Celtics make it rain from deep, head coach Brad Stevens is no dummy.
He knows for this team to be all that it is capable of being, the defense has to get better – a lot better – and be more consistent.
That’s why Wednesday’s victory over the Timberwolves was so important.
Boston came into the game having blasted the Chicago Bulls 100-80 on Sunday.
It was a game in which the Celtics defense absolutely handcuffed the Bulls offense, forcing them to miss their first 12 shots and 18 of 19.
Boston wasn’t that dominant against Minnesota, but it was clear that a similar effort was on display.
Like most teams, the Celtics had a stretch or two when the defense wasn’t that good.
But here’s the thing.
Even during those stretches when they weren’t playing great defense, it had nothing to do with effort and everything to do with the Timberwolves doing a better job at executing.
You can live with that because if you have a good defensive team with good defensive players – and the Celtics have both, mind you – you can get by during those stretches of not-so-great play and not be totally devastated or blown away.
“First off I think the key, not just one or two people playing on defense, it has to be everyone that’s in the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “It helps our team so much. It gets the bench going, it gets the fans into the game. That has to be our identity, it helps us win games.”
And that defensive mindset Bradley speaks of starts with the first unit.
They have to continue to evolve as a group whose foundation centers around sharing the ball on offense while playing tough, five-man defense.
We saw that against the Bulls on Sunday, and we saw it again against the Timberwolves particularly in the second half when they outscored Minnesota 59-44 while limiting the Timberwolves to 37.0 percent shooting from the field.
“We’ve been better defensively,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Hopefully that stays that way.”
It’ll have to if they are to have the kind of season they envision, a season that will include a deep playoff run that will be fueled by a team whose foundation lies in their play defensively; the gritty, grimy, get-it-done kind that does more than just win a few games.
It allows you to do what so few teams are capable of, which is to move on from one playoff series to the next and compete for championships which is among the many goals this franchise has for itself going forward.