Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Thibodeau has Minnesota on right track


Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Thibodeau has Minnesota on right track

BOSTON – The Minnesota Timberwolves are doing the seemingly unthinkable when it comes to Tom Thibodeau-coached teams – they’re getting buckets.

Boston’s defense will indeed be put to the test tonight against a Timberwolves team that ranks among the league’s top scoring clubs.

Minnesota is averaging 108.4 points per game which ranks seventh in the NBA, a significant improvement from the teams he coached in Chicago.

One of the keys to Minnesota’s improved play has been the addition of Jimmy Butler who played for Thibodeau in Chicago.

This season, his first with Minnesota, Butler is averaging 21.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

“He’s just entering his prime,” Thibodeau told NBC Sports Boston, referring to Butler. “He’s a complete player, plays both sides of the ball. And his veteran leadership … he’s already gone through a lot of the things Karl (Anthony-Towns) and Andrew (Wiggins) are just starting to go through. That’ll be very beneficial to those two guys.”

In addition to Butler, Minnesota also added former all-star Jeff Teague and veteran sixth man Jamal Crawford.

Having more proven veterans has provided some much-needed stability to a franchise that’s clearly turning the corner towards respectability and has them on track to making the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

However, they still have this nasty habit of letting late-game leads slip away from them.

Last season, only Charlotte (14) and Philadelphia (14) blew more leads going into the fourth quarter of games, than Minnesota (12).

This season, the Timberwolves have lost seven such games which is tied with the Chicago Bulls for the most blown leads going into the fourth.

“We definitely have to do a better job of finishing games, for sure,” said Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant coach. “I think having more guys who have been in those situations, found success in those situations, is really going to help us, hopefully, get over the hump this season.”

Getting over the hump has been one of the Celtics’ strengths most of this season.

Boston (31-10) has the best record in the Eastern Conference ,partly due to the ability to overcome some pretty steep deficits to some quality foes.

Of Boston’s 31 wins, seven have come after trailing by at least 13 points. That includes a 99-98 win over Houston on Dec. 28, a game in which Boston fell behind by as many as 26 points in the third quarter before rallying for the win.

A big part of Boston’s success has been the relatively steady play of their defense, which has been aided by having a roster that has more players than past years whose strength lies in their length and athleticism. 

"It's really important," said coach Brad Stevens. "It's all about being versatile and switch."


NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

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“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”