It wasn't pretty, but the Boston Celtics held off the Minnesota Timberwolves for a bounce-back victory on Wednesday night.
After Monday's crushing loss to the Houston Rockets, the C's watched their 14-point lead over Minnesota shrink to two late in the fourth quarter. Blown leads have been an issue for Boston since the All-Star break. But this time, the Celtics finished the job and escaped Target Center with a 104-102 victory.
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Jaylen Brown had another monster performance with 35 points and 10 rebounds. Jayson Tatum was second on the team in scoring (22 points) but his shooting woes continued. NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon added 12 points off the bench.
Anthony Edwards tallied a team-high 28 points for the Timberwolves. Five Minnesota players scored in double figures.
The Celtics improve to 48-22 on the season and will look to carry the momentum from their win into Friday night's meeting with the Portland Trail Blazers. First, here are our takeaways from Wednesday's triumph.
Jaylen Brown stepping up as a No. 1
Brown has been sensational since returning from injury after the All-Star break. One could even make the argument he has been the best player on the Celtics' roster in that span.
Coming off a 43-point performance vs. Houston, Brown put on a show again with 35 points and 10 boards on Wednesday. On a night in which the C's struggled to hit shots, he was 12-for-24 from the floor including 5-for-8 from 3-point range.
Brown has stepped up as the Celtics' primary option amid Tatum's ongoing shooting struggles. Tatum was 8-for-20 from the field (2-10 3PT) in Monday's loss and was even less efficient from the field on Wednesday. He finished just 4-for-16 on field goals and missed all eight of his shots from beyond the arc.
Tatum is now 30 for 101 on 3-pointers since the All-Star break.
Defense makes up for poor offense
This was one of the Celtics' worst shooting performances of the last couple of months. Their 40.5 field goal percentage (32.6 percent in the first half) marked their second-lowest since Feb. 3. Their 30 percent clip from 3-point range continued what has been an inconsistent stretch from deep.
Fortunately for Boston, its defense showed up. Minnesota wasn't much better as it shot 44 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from 3.
The Celtics limited the Timberwolves to only two points in the first six minutes of the second quarter. They notched seven steals and five blocks, and that effort on the defensive end is what helped them stave off Minnesota's comeback effort in the fourth quarter.
Playing with an edge
The Celtics have looked flat in recent games, so it was important to show some fight on Wednesday night especially after Monday's deflating defeat. They did just that, and it all started in the second quarter with Jaylen Brown.
Brown confronted Rudy Gobert after the Timberwolves big man elbowed him in his protective mask. He bumped Gobert and had a few choice words for him before the two players were separated by teammates.
Brown picked up a technical for the altercation.
Tempers flared again after Tatum collided with Gobert on a dunk and went down awkwardly in the third quarter.
Tatum stayed in the game.
In the fourth, Marcus Smart fought for a clutch steal and drew a foul in the process. Minnesota forward Kyle Anderson argued the call and Smart yelled at the official to "T him up."
Brown admitted to our Abby Chin after the game that Gobert's "reckless" elbow may have motivated him to play harder. It appeared to light a fire under the entire team as Brown's play and the scrappy team defense was the key to the much-needed bounce-back victory.