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Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Coping with an injured superstar

MINNEAPOLIS – Similar in some ways, different in more that matter. 

That’s the only way you can look at the parallels some have tried to draw between the injuries to Boston’s Gordon Hayward and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler.

Both are All-Star wing players who are playing with different teams this season than the one that drafted them. 

And both suffered leg-related injuries. 

But the significant difference is that Hayward’s dislocated ankle injury is expected to keep him sidelined for the entire season. 

Meanwhile, there’s a very good chance that Butler will be back in the Timberwolves lineup before the end of this month. 


Still, that shouldn’t diminish how much Butler has meant to the Timberwolves this season, and how his absence may very well be the unplanned break the Celtics need as they face off against Minnesota tonight. 

Butler was named an All-Star this past season and prior to his meniscus injury, a case could be made that he was playing at a borderline league-MVP level.

In 56 games this year, Butler is averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. It’s the kind of across-the-board production that has made him one of the game’s top players, and difficult to replace.

“You can’t replace Jimmy individually,” said Minnesota head coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau. “So we know we have to do it collectively. It’s an opportunity for other guys to grow. We have to play to our strengths, cover up our weaknesses and play with great tenacity.”

That’s certainly an apt description of Celtics basketball this season, which is on the doorstep of having the best record in the East despite playing all but five minutes of this season without Hayward, who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season opener. 

The Timberwolves have seen from afar how the Celtics galvanized themselves in the days and weeks following Hayward’s injury, putting together a season of success that has Boston record-wise among the top teams in the NBA. 


Minnesota’s Jamal Crawford is one of the Timberwolves who has experienced what it’s like to have to pick up the slack when a key player is out of the mix. 

While playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, Crawford went through that on two separate occasions with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, respectively. 

Another Minnesota player, Taj Gibson, went through that in Chicago with Derrick Rose. 

That experience, Crawford says, will aid him in his efforts to help his youthful teammates navigate what’s expected to be a difficult and challenging period of time. 

“The more we lean on each other, the better we are collectively and the better chance we have of winning that night,” Crawford said. 

Injuries or not, Thibodeau is doing his part to make sure his team understands how important these games leading into the playoffs are for their future. 

“We have to be ready to play from the start,” Thibodeau said. “This is the time of year where everything is ramped up.”