The return of Al Horford played immediate dividends for the Boston Celtics with a 94-92 win at Detroit on Saturday.
Despite Minnesota’s 4-8 record, the challenge for Horford and the rest of the Celtics will be great tonight against a team that’s loaded with talent.
Led by Karl-Anthony Towns, he is the blossoming leader of what’s shaping up to be one of the more exciting teams in the NBA whose greatest strength – youthful talent – is also its greatest weakness.
The Timberwolves come into tonight’s game having alternated between wins and losses in their last seven games.
That up-and-down play speaks to how they have performed most of this season, a common result from having a roster that’s fueled by youth but lacks the veteran experience and wisdom to put teams away when the opportunity presents itself.
Minnesota is one of the league’s best at starting games as the Timberwolves average 29.2 points in the first quarter and 29.8 in the second quarter which ranks second and third, respectively, in the NBA while ranking dead-last in third quarter scoring (19.8) and middle of the pack (13th) in fourth quarter points (25.9) per game.
Their biggest comeback this season was from three points down on two separate occasions. And four of their eight losses have come in games in which they led by as many as 14 points.
So for the Celtics (7-6), getting off to a good start will go far in their efforts to go two games over .500 for just the second time this season.
One of the keys to Boston putting together another winning performance akin to what they did in Detroit lies in the return of Al Horford (concussion) and Jae Crowder (ankle) who missed nine and eight games, respectively.
“We needed both of those guys bad,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “It’s great to have those guys back.”
Horford had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with five assists and three blocked shots in Boston’s 94-92 win at Detroit.
Crowder (nine points, 3-for-9 shooting) didn’t have nearly as impressive a game statistically, but he did a number of positive things defensively despite being on a minutes -restriction plan and will likely be limited for a few more weeks.
Even with Crowder playing fewer minutes than usual, his presence will be important in trying to limit Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins who is averaging a career-high 25.7 points while shooting 47.5 percent from the field.
“He's smart. He's driven,” Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters earlier this month about Wiggins. “I think sometimes mistakenly people take him as laid back. He's competitive. I think he's just scratching the surface. I think he can do a lot more."
There is a similar mindset among the Celtics players about their team which has been hit by a rash of early-season injuries which have had an impact on the team’s overall record.
Of the setbacks, none has been more difficult to deal with than the absence of Horford who signed a four-year, $113 million contract with the Celtics this summer.
Being in the league’s concussion protocol program for nearly three weeks has certainly impacted Horford’s willingness to be patient while gaining a greater appreciation for the process of inching closer towards being a title contender.
“We’re building something here,” Horford said.