It was another loss that left Boston Celtics fans frustrated. In the second half, the Celtics let an 11-point lead slip against a Minnesota Timberwolves team missing, most notably, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D'Angelo Russell. While the Timberwolves played with energy and confidence that helped propel them to victory, Boston, who didn't match Minnesota in either department, provided minimal resistance defensively and committed 14 turnovers in the loss.
Here's what stood out from a defeat that drops the Celtics to 16-18 and ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Grant Williams and Al Horford Don't Miss a Beat
Al Horford and Grant Williams hadn't played in ten days, but neither player showed signs of rust. In 34 minutes of floor time, the former scored 16 points on 6/11 shooting, including 4/8 from beyond the arc, and he grabbed nine rebounds, dished out six assists, and finished a five-point loss with a plus-minus rating of +10.
As for Williams, the third-year power forward produced 15 points on 4/7 shooting, and he connected on three of his five long-range attempts. Willams also corralled six rebounds. Coming off the bench to play 28 minutes, Williams registered a plus-minus rating of +5.
Horford Reaches Career Milestone
Speaking of Horford, according to Sean Grande, the Celtics' radio play-by-play broadcaster, Horford achieved a rare milestone, registering his 3,000th career assist. Per Grande, Draymond Green is the only other big man to do so since Horford entered the NBA in 2007.
The Way the Timberwolves Played Should Be Teach Tape for the Celtics
No Karl-Anthony Towns; no Anthony Edwards, no D'Angelo Russell, no problem. The Timberwolves' method of operation overcame the absences of their best players.
Jaylen Nowell came off the bench and erupted for a game-high 29 points on 10-18 shooting, including 6/9 from three. Nathan Knight scored 20 points, making eight of his eleven field goals. And Jaden McDaniels, despite shooting 2/7 from beyond the arc, still racked up 17 points. Greg Monroe, who last played in the NBA in 2018, registered six assists, at times working as an offensive hub, facilitating for others out of the high post. He also did damage down low, contributing 11 points and proving difficult for any of Boston's big men to contain in the second half.
In the final two quarters, in particular, Minnesota played an energetic and selfless brand of basketball. They consistently pushed the pace, made quick decisions with the ball, got into the paint, and shared the rock to create open shots. They were also active without the ball, repeatedly burning Boston with cuts and simple screening actions away from it.
The way the Timberwolves played drives home personnel is no excuse for straying from the approach they used to go on a 22-6 run, turning an 11-point deficit into an 87-81 lead and ultimately a win. Even when the Celtics are healthy, they don't play that way often enough.
It's Just Not Working
Yes, the Celtics were short-handed, and yes, they missed plenty of makeable shots on Monday, just like they did down the stretch against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. But the whole is less than the sum of Boston's parts.
The Celtics had more talent on the floor on Monday, but defensively, they provided minimal resistance in the second half. Offensively, the lack of help the team gets from the system they operate in makes life more difficult for them than it should be. Too often, they're working without much direction, which means all five players on the court need to see the game the same way. That's how you get players remaining stationed in the same spot throughout a possession; relying too heavily on isolations; and a lack of investment and energy in what's happening on the floor.
Monday's loss was only Ime Udoka's 34th game as an NBA head coach, but to this point, it's disappointing that the Celtics' offensive system hasn't changed despite these problems being prevalent during the Brad Stevens era.
The Celtics host the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. Tip-off is at 7:30 EST. Inside The Celtics will have content related to the game coming out before, during, and after. And follow @BobbyKrivitsky on Twitter for updates and analysis from pregame to post.