BOSTON -- Celtics fans had to love the way Boston kicked off what will have the feel of a month-long homestand on Wednesday night with a 115-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It was yet another one of those games when the Celtics, dealing with a new set of setbacks -- and at least one more presumably on the horizon -- managed to get players to excel in more prominent roles than they have had thus far this season.
Wednesday’s victory was yet another reminder of how good this team can be when it is playing at a level close to its potential, something we have seen all too rarely this season.
And like any victory at this point in the season, the Celtics are certainly looking to build off it going forward with 10 of their next 14 games in January being at the TD Garden.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from Boston’s victory against the Timberwolves.
If you go back and look at that surge by the Timberwolves in the third quarter, it’s not a coincidence that it seemingy picked up steam the minute Marcus Smart went to the locker room with what appeared to be a serious right shoulder injury. At the time of his departure, Boston was up by 20. By the time he surprisingly returned to the floor in the third, the Celtics' lead had dwindled to 11 points. However, moments upon his return to the floor he deflected a pass that led to a breakaway finish for Gordon Hayward and Boston’s control of the game was cemented with Smart scoring just two points but the Celtics being a +17 when he was on the floor. Wednesday’s game served as yet another example as to why Smart deserves some serious all-NBA defensive team love this season because as we see night in and night out, the 6-foot-4 Smart seemingly manages to impact the game defensively by consistently delivering game-changing plays.
Hayward owns the Timberwolves
If only the Celtics could convince Gordon Hayward that he’s playing the Timberwolves every night. For the second time in as many matchups this season against Minnesota, Hayward absolutely dominated the Timberpups with his versatile scoring and playmaking. Hayward had a season-high 35 points which bettered his previous season high of 30 points, coming against - who else? - the Timberwolves. The points were nice, obviously. But more than the scoring, Hayward was able to do so many of the things he did with regularity prior to suffering the ankle/leg injury that sidelined him for all of last season. Those moments, more than the points scored, are what both Hayward and the Celtics need to see going forward, which can only help bring Hayward closer to being the All-Star wing he was prior to the injury.
As much as Terry Rozier catches flak for not being as productive as he was a year ago, nights like Wednesday should serve as a reminder to all as to what he can do when afforded a chance to play without having to look over his shoulder. And the only way that happens is when Kyrie Irving (scratched eyes) is out of the lineup. He made his first five shots against Minnesota, and tallied 16 for the game to go with five assists and five steals.
This is exactly what the Celtics have come to expect from Rozier when he’s given an opportunity to play a major role. And while his production off the bench hasn’t been as consistent as he would like, statistically speaking it is very consistent with what he did last season. And it’s coming with him playing fewer minutes per game
With so many lineup changes, it has really caused havoc and upheaval on the team’s bench production. Well, Wednesday night seemed to be one of those times when seemingly everything came together for Boston’s second unit.
Gordon Hayward was knocking down everything in sight before finishing with a season-high 35 points. Jaylen Brown continues to stay aggressive offensively, and had 10 points and five rebounds. Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusle were active defensively along with combining for 12 points. They outscored the Timberwolves 62-18 in bench points, a decisive showing even if you didn’t include Hayward’s season-high scoring output.
The one downer from the victory was Marcus Morris’ neck injury. He suffered it in the second half and was unable to return. While there’s no definitive timetable for how long he’ll be out, it’s fair to say that the likelihood he’s out there against Dallas on Friday isn’t good, making an already thin frontline that much thinner.
But in Morris, the Celtics would be losing more than just another warm body who makes a few plays. Morris has been the team’s most consistent performer; it’s not even close.
And he’s consistent at a relatively high level which speaks to his importance to this team -- not just against the Mavs but also going forward. When the season began, there was uncertainty as to whether Morris would even be on the roster. With Gordon Hayward’s return coupled with the growth of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, there was a belief that Morris would not get much of an opportunity to shine this season. But he has, delivering some timely baskets in what has been a career season for him on so many levels. So the idea of not having him around for one game - or potentially more - is certainly disturbing to the Celtics.
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