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."