Wolves 110, Celtics 100
With only eight games remaining on their regular season schedule, the Celtics (38-36) are holding auditions in order to determine who will earn consistent playing time in the playoffs. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce sitting out a (peculiarly scheduled) road game in Minnesota on Monday night left the door wide open for some of the players on the fringe of the rotation, and they passed with mixed marks in a ten-point loss. While Boston was outscored 62-38 in the paint, turned the ball over 17 times, and never really recovered from the T’wolves 17-6 run at the end of the first half, some of the C’s younger players gained some valuable experience during the loss.
Since this game was atypical in the sense that both teams were not wholly preoccupied with winning at any cost, it makes sense to analyze this loss in an atypical fashion. Here is a recap of each Celtics player’s audition for a heightened role in the playoffs:
Auditioning for a Lead Role: Jeff Green
Green ground out ten points, seven rebounds, and five assists in 38 minutes while receiving a taste of what it feels like to be the opposing defense’s focus. Pierce knows a thing or two about grinding it out in these situations, and if Green follows the veteran’s advice, he may be able to step into the Captain’s shoes within a couple of years. Although Green’s body of work over the past month has been impressive, he has yet to play up to his potential on a consistent basis. Whether more minutes will solve that problem is a source of an inherently complicated debate, but unless Green is able to at least imitate Pierce’s cold-blooded nature in the final minutes of games, he may just be too nice to make it big.
Building the Resume: Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, and Brandon Bass
Bass and Terry have disappointed throughout much of the season, yet in the past week they have stepped their game up when the C’s needed them most. When both of these guys are making their shots, the Celtics offense improves drastically, and they were efficient on Monday. However, asking Bass to guard a monstrous post-presence like Nikola Pekovic appears to be too much. If nothing else, Bass demonstrated that he is not the answer for any team when it comes to defending the paint.
On the other hand, this game was a big step for Bradley, who scored a team-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. Bradley has struggled on the offensive end recently. He failed to reach double digits for eight consecutive games before he broke out of the slump in Minnesota, and if he can continue to develop his jump shot then he can become one of the best two-way guards in the entire league.
The Supporting Cast: Terrence Williams, Jordan Crawford, and Shavlik Randolph
The Celtics coaching staff likely expects mixed results from these three recent additions. They haven’t had much time to practice with their teammates and seem to struggle to grasp some of the defensive concepts that the C’s employ, but they’re all very talented. Randolph is perhaps the least talented of the three, yet what he lacks in explosive ability he makes up for with determination- just look at his performance against Atlanta on Friday. On Monday, his five personal fouls in roughly 20 minutes show that the backup big man is trying to fill the defensive void that results from K.G’s absence. At the same time that many fouls in that few minutes insinuate that maybe he’s trying a bit too hard.
Williams earns an A+ for his contributions on the offensive end. However, after he blew his assignment in a pick and roll situation, Doc had to call a timeout just to make sure T-Will understands how to react to the most common defensive situation in the NBA The 6-foot-6-inch, 220 pound guard is versatile enough to guard multiple positions, it just seems like he needs to shore up some fundamentals on that end of the floor.
Crawford is Crawford, and we wouldn’t ask him to change. He’s a bad-shot-maker, a wily offensive player, and a matador on defense. You never know what your going to get out of the third-year pro, but you know to expect the unexpected. In this game, he earns a rough B- while showing enough potential to get a substantial role in the upcoming drama of the playoffs.
While the C’s failed to compete in Minnesota, the Bucks crushed the Bobcats and are now only 1.5 games behind Boston for the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Resting the veterans and seasoning the new players is fine for one night, but Celtics fans will hope that their team turns it around during an upcoming four-game home stand. Otherwise, the Celts may have to face the hated Miami Heat sooner than they would prefer.