MINNEAPOLIS Good defense leads to great offense. You hear it all the time, but rarely does it smack you in the face the way it did on Friday as the Celtics had little trouble in defeating Minnesota, 100-79.
Boston has had good stretches of defense all season, but Friday's win was arguably their best defensive showing from the opening tip-off to the final horn sounding.
"Our defense is who we are," said C's coach Doc Rivers.
While the C's defense wasn't flawless - they gave up four, 3-pointers in the second quarter - Rivers was pleased with the steady play most of the night.
In addition to limiting Minnesota to just 34.7 percent shooting, Boston also managed to break even - 45 to 45 - with the Timberwolves on the boards.
After the game, aside from the talk about Kevin Garnett getting the better of Kevin Love, most of the chatter was about the Celtics defense which in addition to helping Boston win, has also helped catapult them into the top spot in the Atlantic Division with Friday's win and Philadelphia's loss to Washington.
"They are a good defensive team and that is why they won the championship a few years ago," said Timberwolves guard Luke Ridenour. "You can tell they are very defensive minded and they play well together as a team."
Indeed, Boston's defense was a major factor in Friday's win for the Celtics. We'll review other keys highlighted prior to the game, and see how they played out as Boston extended its winning streak to four in a row.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR As much as rebounding is an issue for the Celtics, it won't do them much good if they do a good job on the boards and don't get out and take advantage of scoring opportunities in transition. The C's average 12.2 points per game in fast break points, which ranks 19th in the NBA. But in Minnesota, they're facing one of the most "fast-break friendly" teams in the NBA. Timberwolves opponents are averaging 16.2 fast-break points per game which ranks 29th in the NBA.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston did a nice job of taking advantage of most of their opportunities to score in transition. The C's had 15 fast-break points that came on 7-for-10 shooting.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Kevin Love: The face of franchise past meets the face of franchise present in this duel. The Love-for-league-MVP chatter might have seemed a pipe dream a couple weeks ago, but it isn't that big a stretch now. He's averaging 26.3 points and 13.9 rebounds, numbers the NBA hasn't seen since Moses Malone averaged 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds during the 1981-1982 season which, by the way, ended with Malone being named league MVP. Garnett, who has delivered strong play for the C's at both ends of the floor all season, recently talked about finding added motivation in facing superstars of the future. "Playing against younger talent that's supposed to be prolific and supposed to be above-average but I'm old though, you know?" said Garnett, who was speaking about talented, young players in general and not specifically Kevin Love. "It don't take much to motivate me."
WHAT WE SAW: You have to score this one for the ghost of franchise past. Not only did Garnett have more points than Love (24 to 22), He also went about it in a much more efficient manner in addition to holding his own on the boards (Garnett had 10 rebounds to Love's 11). All the C's recognized that Garnett, who spent his first 12 NBA seasons in Minnesota, was a little more amped up on Friday night - which is kind of scary when you consider how fired up Garnett is for most games. "I think KG took it personal tonight," said Minnesota forward Anthony Tolliver. "I'm sure he's been hearing a lot of stuff that Love is the best power forward in the league and everything else. One night doesn't change it, but he's a competitor and we knew he was going to come in here and bring it straight to Kevin (Love). He (Garnett) looked like his old self tonight."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has been quietly putting together one of the greatest seasons by a Celtics playmaker ever. He comes into tonight's game with double-digit assists in 11 straight games, a franchise record. He had a nine-game stretch last year. To put his numbers in perspective, no Celtics player prior to Rondo had ever had more than seven straight double-digit assist games.
WHAT WE SAW: Rondo's string of double-digit assist games was kept alive by halftime, which is when he tallied 12 of his game-high 17. "We got a good rhythm," Rondo said. "It starts defensively. When we get stops like that it's been a good team effort as far as guys spreading the ball around, but it starts with defense."
STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Timberwolves off the free throw line will be huge for the Celtics tonight. Minnesota averages 25.6 free throw attempts per game which ranks sixth in the league. And when you throw in the fact that they rank in the top 10 in free throw percentage (77.9 percent, ninth in the NBA), the C's can't bank on them missing too many.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics didn't do as good a job as they would have liked in keeping the Timberwolves off the free throw line, as Minnesota connected on 21 of its 25 free throws compared to the C's who were 8-for-11 from the line. But with the Celtics pulling ahead by double digits in the first quarter and maintaining that edge for most of the game, the Timberwolves' advantage at the line was never a factor in the game's outcome.