BOSTON – We have seen time and time again the Boston Celtics deliver a sterling performance followed by a stinker.
Facing a Minnesota team whose play of late far exceeds their overall record, this game had ‘Celtics letdown’ written all over it.
Instead, the Celtics turned in yet another near-complete performance in beating Minnesota 117-104.
- Highlights: Boston Celtics 117, Minnesota Timberwolves 104
- Blakely: Celtics' latest win proves again that defense is their foundation
- WATCH: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown exchange words on Celtics bench
- Celtics prank rookie Jaylen Brown after win vs. Timberwolves
- Stars, studs and duds: Starting five delivers for Celtics
The win extended Boston’s dominance at home over the Timberwolves to 11 in a row.
But even more important, the Celtics (43-25) put a little more separation between themselves and the third-place Washington Wizards (41-25) who lost at Dallas, while moving them just a bit closer to top-seeded Cleveland (44-22) which was idle on Wednesday night.
Head coach Brad Stevens says he doesn’t pay attention to the standings, but prefers to instead stay in the moment, focus on the task and opponent before him.
That mantra works for him.
But the Celtics players are not immune to social media and friends and other NBA games being played. They know they are in a down-to-the-wire fight for one of the top spots in the East, and they need every win they can get. And that means playing with a heightened sense of urgency, something that was on display in the second half of Wednesday’s game against a Minnesota team that has knocked off a number of NBA powers recently.
Golden State. Washington. Utah. All have been slayed in the recent days by the upstart Timberwolves.
But the Celtics refused to be a part of another Minnesota massacre, getting big contributions from just about every player who stepped on the floor for them.
However, the play of Al Horford stood head and shoulders above all others.
He’s no stranger to filling up the stat sheet for the Celtics this season. But Wednesday was different. He wasn’t just racking up stats.
Horford played what may have been his most impactful game this season, as he pushed, shoved, banged … did whatever he could to get his hands on the ball whether it was rebounding, blocking shots, altering shots or finding teammates open for great looks at the rim while often passing up good shots for himself.
He would finish with a near triple-double of 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Isaiah Thomas continued to be the man leading the scoring pack for Boston, with 27 points.
But the Timberwolves showed some fight, even after they fell behind by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Minnesota fought, but the Celtics … they were just better.
Karl-Anthony Towns, who has emerged as one of the premier big men in the NBA, was a central figure in Minnesota’s efforts at pulling off an upset.
But Horford and Amir Johnson’s interior defense kept him from dominating the action down the stretch.
And Minnesota’s other players were solid, but the Celtics refused to let any of them get into any kind of rhythm which was similar to what they did defensively when they smashed the Bulls 100-80 on Sunday.
But Minnesota was a much feistier, combative foe which is what you would expect from a Tom Thibodeau-coached team.
But as the fourth quarter drew to a close, it was becoming quite clear that the Celtics were not going to let up their intensity at both ends of the floor.
It was a game in which they played with the kind of consistency that they’ll need if they are to continue to play well down the stretch and into the playoffs.