Celtics able to keep the Timberwolves away from the door
MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Timberwolves finally solved the Celtics’ defensive puzzle. They shot 52 percent from the field last night - the first time an opponent bettered 42 percent this season - but it wasn’t enough as Boston took a 92-90 victory at the Target Center.
The Celtics failed to find an offensive flow for most of the game, but were able to convert offensively and make stops defensively when it counted, and will take a 6-0 record into tomorrow night’s game against Phoenix at TD Garden. The Celtics’ performance contrasted greatly with their 105-74 trouncing of Philadelphia the previous night.
“I don’t think they surprised us,’’ said Celtics guard Ray Allen. “They did everything we expected them to do. I can’t really say we were tired. We missed a lot of shots. We didn’t have a great rhythm. We have to give them credit for the type of game they played. They played a great game and we were able to withstand them in the fourth quarter and come out with the victory.’’
Kendrick Perkins (13 points) lost the statistical duel with former teammate Al Jefferson (18 points), and no Celtic could match the inside-outside threat of Oleksiy Pecherov (24 points). But Perkins and Co. came through when it mattered most.
“I think it was more us than them,’’ Perkins said. “[Tuesday] we had a clinic on sharing the ball, [last] night it was sticking a little bit with everybody. Everybody at one point in time could have made the extra pass and we didn’t. We’re a team; with our offense, we’ve got to make the extra pass. If a guy’s open, we’ve got to get it there on time. We took a lot of contested shots that we usually don’t take and some games will be like that. I’m just happy we got the win.’’
The Celtics trailed by as many as 10 points early in the second half and did not hold more than a 1-point lead until 5:34 remained.
Jefferson’s low-post play got the Timberwolves off to a strong start, then Pecherov took over. The Wolves were in control for most of the game, but the Celtics’ second unit (plus Paul Pierce) rallied in the second quarter. Then, the Celtic starters made stands to start the second half and in the final minutes.
Pierce’s 3-point play provided an 87-84 lead with 5:34 remaining. After Corey Brewer’s drive and Pecherov’s low-post move gave Minnesota the lead, the Celtics went to an inside-out play with Kevin Garnett finding Rajon Rondo for a layup and an 89-88 lead with 4:18 left.
Then, the Celtics’ defense came through. Brewer was forced into an airball, and Perkins’s second-chancer off a Garnett assist gave the Celtics a 91-88 lead, and would be the clinching score. Rondo stole from Jefferson and Pecherov sent a wild shot off a drive off the backboard before Perkins hit a foul shot with 1:31 remaining. Pecherov cut the deficit to 2 from the corner with 1:14 left.
Rondo missed a jumper, but the Celtics made a final stand as the Wolves called a timeout with 10.2 seconds to go.
Rondo pressured Jonny Flynn, then committed a foul with 6.6 seconds on the clock. Brewer then was tied up by Garnett on a drive, referee David Jones ruling a jump ball with 3.6 seconds left. Brewer won the jump, but Rondo flipped the ball out of bounds with 0.9 seconds on the clock. Perkins then blocked Jefferson’s desperation 22-foot turnaround.
“The first half, we couldn’t have been any worse,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We didn’t have a lot of energy. Give them credit, they attacked us and I didn’t think we were very good.’’
At halftime, though, the Celtics made adjustments. One of them was spotting an opening that allowed Rondo to go back door. Rondo scored 10 points over a 2:48 span, all resulting from moves in the lane, tying the score at 68 with 2:34 remaining in the third quarter.
“The way they were trapping,’’ Rivers said, “we just lifted Ray way up and kept telling them, either they are going to leave Ray, or Rondo is going to get layups. That’s why we left Rasheed [Wallace] in, because usually it’s the big that drops, but he can’t drop because he’s got Rasheed and we’ve got Ray. We threw it to Kevin, and so we had four shooters and Rajon. We tried to force them to trap and if they did trap, we get a layup.’’