Karl-Anthony Towns

Marcus Smart warms up the cold-shooting Celtics

Marcus Smart warms up the cold-shooting Celtics

BOSTON – For most of the first quarter of Boston’s matchup against Minnesota, based on how both teams came out misfiring, you would have thought the game was being played outdoors in the frigid temperatures and swirling wind.

And then...Marcus Smart entered the game.

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While he is well respected for his defense and energy, offensive turnarounds aren’t exactly his forte.

And yet there he was, giving the Celtics’ flailing offense a much-needed lift that factored heavily in the 91-84 victory.

Smart had a team-high 18 points for the Celtics (32-10), doing so on 8-for-13 shooting from the field.

“It felt amazing. It felt good to see a couple shots finally go down,” Smart said. “We stuck with it and our defense came and got us a victory.”

This was the second consecutive game in which Smart has made a huge impact on the game with his shot-making. In the past two games, he’s averaging 17.0 points while shooting 51.9 percent from the field.

“Sometimes when we’re struggling, I think the ball is going to find energy,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “And Marcus Smart has energy. And plays that way and plays with a great chip. He’s playing at a good level. We need him to continue to do so. Obviously, he’s a really important part of our team.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the victory that extended Boston’s winning streak to five.

STARS
Karl-Anthony Towns

The Celtics had no answer for Towns’ play inside the paint or from the perimeter. He would finish the night with a dominant performance, tallying a double-double of 25 points and 23 rebounds with two blocked shots. 

Kyrie Irving
The ability to impact the games in ways besides scoring, is becoming quite apparent when it comes to Kyrie Irving. He truly gave the game what it needed on Friday night as he flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

STUDS
Marcus Smart
He delivered his usual top-shelf play defensively in addition to one of his better shooting performances this season. Smart had a team-high 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field.

Terry Rozier
Like Smart, Rozier also made a significant contribution off the bench for Boston. He came oh-so-close to a double-double, tallying 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting to go with nine rebounds.

Aron Baynes
With so many players flirting with double-doubles, someone had to get one for the Celtics right? It was Baynes who had 11 points and 10 rebounds and a plus/minus of +7 which was tops among all Celtic starters.

DUDS
Jimmy Butler
The perennial All-Star was never able to get into any kind of steady flow or rhythm. And the end result was an underwhelming game in which he had 14 points, finishing with more turnovers (4) than made baskets (3).

Celtics 3-point shooting
Normally one of Boston’s weapons of choice, the Celtics consistently misfired on Friday, connecting on just 6-of-36 attempts for a season-low 16.7 percent from 3-point range. But as it turned out, the previous low (21.9 percent) came in a victory over a team from the Western Conference (Golden State on Nov. 16).

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Rozier and bench again lead way as Celtics top T'Wolves, 91-84

Rozier and bench again lead way as Celtics top T'Wolves, 91-84

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving remains the headliner when it comes to the Celtics this season.

But lately, it has been the C's supporting cast – Terry Rozier specifically - that has taken center stage.

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Friday night was yet another impressive outing as Boston pulled away with a bench-led, fourth-quarter surge that paved the way for a 91-84 win over Minnesota at TD Garden.

And while there were plenty of backups ballin’ out for the Celtics (32-10, the play of Rozier once again stood out.

After leading all scorers with 20 points in the win over Cleveland on Wednesday, he was even more impressive on Friday night with a near double-double of 14 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes.

Boston also got a strong bench game from Marcus Smart, who led most of the Celtics in scoring most of the night before finishing with a team-high 18 points.

As a unit, they outscored their Minnesota backup brethren, 42-20. 

And while Irving’s teammates off the bench were instrumental in the victory, the four-time All-Star had his usual moments in which he also dominated as he finished with a near triple-double of 16 points to go with nine rebounds and eight assists.

As for the Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns was as dominant a player as the Celtics have faced this season. He led Minnesota (24-16) with 25 points and 23 rebounds.

Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler had 14 points and six assists for Minnesota which has now lost two in a row after winning seven of its previous eight games.

The way both teams shot the ball in the second half was significantly better than the frigid shooting display put on by both teams at the start of the game.

The easy explanation for the horrific shooting by both teams was to blame it on Mother Nature and the cold temps in Boston that maybe just maybe, factored into such cold shooting by both teams.

At the half, Boston held a slim 41-38 lead in large part by limiting the Timberwolves to 32.6 percent shooting.

But the Celtics weren’t much better, connecting on a not-so-great 39.1 percent of their shot attempts.

The third quarter was better for both teams in terms of shooting the ball.

Boston seemingly spread the offensive love around while Minnesota seemed to focus more on getting the ball into Butler as much as possible when he was matched up against Irving.

And unlike most games when teams try to do that, Irving was not able to effectively go back at the Timberwolves, who limited him to a rough shooting night most of the quarter.

But Irving had the last laugh, finishing the quarter with a drive that put the Celtics up 66-62 going into the fourth quarter.

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Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Thibodeau has Minnesota on right track

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Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Thibodeau has Minnesota on right track

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."

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