Five takeaways from the Celtics' win over the Timberwolves

Five takeaways from the Celtics' win over the Timberwolves

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. 

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Here’s a look at five takeaways from Boston’s victory against the Timberwolves.

Marcus Smart

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. 

Terry Rozier

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

The bench 

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. 

Missing Mook

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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Kyrie Irving's absence puts Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward in spotlight

Kyrie Irving's absence puts Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward in spotlight

BOSTON — One of the hallmarks of last year’s Boston Celtics team was an ability for others to step up when a star was missing. It’s what propelled the Celtics to the doorstep of the NBA Finals, the way younger players were able to fill the shoes of injured All-Stars like Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

But as the Celtics have navigated an uneven start to the 2018-19 season, one of the big questions was whether they could stay afloat without a star like Irving. Boston’s point guard, healthy again this season, has been otherworldly and the team’s offensive rating has taken a nosedive when he’s not on the floor. So there was reason for concern when Irving got raked across both eyes during Monday’s loss in San Antonio.


Enter Hayward and Terry Rozier, two of the more maligned players on this year’s squad. Hayward was coming off a 0-point performance against the Spurs, the latest head-scratching night in a season in which he’s routinely fought his own shot, while Rozier has found himself in the crosshairs for much of Boston’s second-unit struggles, unable to consistently harness the sort of impact he produced in an elevated role during Irving’s absence last postseason.

On Wednesday night, Hayward scored a season-high 35 points on red-hot 14-of-18 shooting while Rozier set the tone with a loud first quarter en route to a 16-point, 5-assist, 5-steal night during Boston’s 115-102 triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves looked indifferent at times, including when Marcus Smart straight up mugged a ball-handler who was trying to call a simple midcourt timeout, and instead turned it into an alley-oop slam. Boston pushed its lead as high as 22 then hung on in the second half, particularly as Karl-Anthony Towns tried to singlehandedly will Minnesota back.

On a normal night, the Celtics might not have had the offensive output to fend off the Wolves. But Hayward couldn’t miss — an encouraging sign for a player who entered shooting 31.1 percent beyond the arc and 39.7 percent from the field overall. Hayward didn’t even register his first field goal until the second quarter and then the floodgates seemed to open from there.

"Well, we have a lot of talent and sometimes, with so much talent, there’s just not as much responsibility,” said Hayward. "That’s just the nature of the team. So there’s not as much opportunity and it’s going to be a different guy on a different night. [Jaylen Brown] had 30 against San Antonio. So I think, hopefully, if somebody isn’t having a good night, somebody else can step up.

"But when we’re all playing well and we’re all moving the basketball, that’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun to play like that.”

Rozier, who entered as the Celtics’ only player with a negative net rating for the season, was fantastic in a starting role. He scored 11 first-quarter points on 5-of-5 shooting and gave Boston early confidence.

Asked about his mindset as a starter, a matter-of-fact Rozier answered, "Go out there and kill.”

Later he added, “My job is easy. Just go out there and play hard. Like I said, kill. My teammates and my coaches do a great job of giving me that confidence.”

Pressed on the difference between Starter Terry and Bench Terry and whether he’d gotten some of that playoff mojo back, a straight-faced Rozier said, "Yeah, it’s a new year, so new me.”

There was never doubt that these Celtics had the talent but they’ve so infrequently been able to get most of their roster going at the same time this year. And even the tiniest of lapses has caused wins to slip away. 

But on a night the Celtics didn’t have Irving and an already quiet Marcus Morris sat out most of the fourth quarter with a sore neck, the Celtics got key contributions from the players who have most often drawn the ire of an impatient fan base.

Hayward, who had a 30/9/8 game against Minnesota last month, shrugged off his dominance of the Wolves. He credited Marcus Smart with getting him going early, feeding him on his first make of the night. But Hayward said the key for him was simply being aggressive and not allowing the 0-fer in San Antonio to fester.

"Any time you have a game like I did last game, you want to come out and just be ultra-aggressive,” said Hayward.

Teammates Guerschon Yabusele and Al Horford reprised their roles from the Minnesota visit and dumped water on Hayward’s previously pristine locks during his walkoff interview with ESPN.

This season, Hayward hasn’t always been able to produce the first-step explosion that helped make him an All-Star in Utah. But he looked a lot more confident in all facets after his shots started falling on Wednesday.

"I think, as the season goes on, I think my movement is getting better,” said Hayward. "I think there are still so many things to work on. In [the past] two games, night and day. So consistency is going to be huge to have -- it’s not games like this all the time, it’s just staying aggressive and attack, as opposed to being passive.”

For Hayward and Rozier, it’s all about finding that sweet spot. Both players have been guilty of pressing too hard in more limited minutes but seemed to play more free knowing they’d have a longer leash on Wednesday night.

Now the key is being able to impact games more consistently, even when the shots aren’t falling. And not only while Irving is sidelined by the eye irritation but especially when he’s back. 


If the Celtics can get Rozier and Hayward to be even a milder version of what we saw Wednesday, then this team is going to look more like the Eastern Conference power they were expected to be, and not the team that has lagged fifth in the conference for most of the early part of the season.

They might look more like the team we were expecting to see after last year’s playoff run.

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Marcus Morris' neck is 'sore as hell,' but Marcus Smart OK after shoulder scare

Marcus Morris' neck is 'sore as hell,' but Marcus Smart OK after shoulder scare

BOSTON — Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris said his neck is “sore as hell” after falling to the parquet after a layup early in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 115-102 triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves at TD Garden.

Morris, one of Boston’s top two-way players this season, and a key offensive weapon with Kyrie Irving sidelined by right eye irritation, said he’ll wait to see how the shoulder responds overnight but admitted the fall left his neck feeling particularly stiff.

“It feels like I’ve got a crick in my neck,” said Morris. “Should be cool.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens had noted that Morris “looks like he’s hurting,” the veteran forward downplayed the injury while suggesting he’ll wait until Thursday to determine if he needs any imaging.

"It’s not scary. I wouldn’t use that word. But it is what it is,” said Morris. "I just feel like I hope I wake up and it just feels better. I know I’m stiff, you see how I’m turning my shoulders [to answers questions]? A crick, that’s what it feels like.”

Morris had one of his quieter games of the season, chipping in 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting with three rebounds over 23:31. But if Irving remains sidelined by the eye injury, Morris' offense could be vital for a Celtics team that has struggled to score without Irving.

Morris’ neck was the second injury scare of the night for a Boston squad that saw fellow starter Marcus Smart hobble to the locker room after his right shoulder got snagged running into a hard screen from Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns. 

Most reporters were googling injury timelines for shoulder separations when the Celtics announced that Smart was probable to return with merely a shoulder strain.

Smart missed only nine minutes of game action before returning late in the third quarter. Smart finished with only 2 points but added eight assists and was plus-17 over 22 minutes of floor time.

"I just got hit in the right spot, back of the shoulder blade. It sent a sharp pain up to my neck area and that knocked the wind out of me a little bit,” said Smart. "But everything is OK. They cleared me. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and that’s the good thing.”

And Smart reported no issues after returning.

"It was a little tight but for the most part everything felt good,” he said.

Teammate Terry Rozier said he wasn’t surprised to see Smart rejoin the huddle so quickly.

"Nah, I ain’t surprised at all. I could have bet somebody 100 push-ups he was coming back,” joked Rozier. "Tough as nails. Something’s gotta be broken for him to be sitting out. Like, broken.”

The Celtics have Thursday off before hosting the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.

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