Dec 16, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (42) hits the ground after being fouled during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves vs. Celtics: Sloppy Wolves fall late in Boston, 101-97

Ah, the ol’ road back-to-back when the home team has been resting all weekend long after playing  a home game on Friday night. Throw in Kevin Martin sitting out with his troublesome bruised knee, and this was bound to be a tough contest to walk away from with a win. Oh, and add in that the Celtics aren’t what we thought they’d be. I mean, they’re in first place! (At 11-14, of course.) But seriously, they’re surprisingly decent.

Once game action began, the first quarter was what one might have expected. The Wolves showed their tired legs, and the Celtics did enough to open up a 29-21 lead. Much to the dismay of the terrible Tommy Heinsohn, the officials gave the Wolves an edge in the free throw department, as the visitors shot 7-10 from the charity stripe while the Celtics went just 1-1.

Some of the calls were ticky-tack, but the Wolves aggressiveness was the only thing that kept the Boston lead in single digits while they saw shot attempt after shot attempt bounce off the rim. The field goal shooting was atrocious, and the defense was worse. In other words, an 8-point deficit actually seemed like a blessing.

In the first quarter, Avery Bradley hurt the Wolves by taking a number of long jumpers while Corey Brewer went under every single screen. Moving into the second quarter, the Celtics mostly punch-less bench took the court, and out-uglied the Wolves’ much-maligned bench.

The activity level stayed high for Minnesota with the Barea-led reserves, and an eventual lineup of Barea, Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham, and the rarely-seen rookie Gorgui Dieng played extremely well. After finding themselves down by eight again midway through the frame, a quick 12-6 burst pulled the Wolves within a possession. After swapping out Kevin Love for Cunningham, the Wolves pulled ahead for the first time all night.

A bout of foul trouble and some empty possessions allowed the Celtics to regain a 51-50 lead by the break, but the still had to feel fortunate, given the state of their legs and the lack of their second leading scorer (and best wing player, by a wide margin) in Martin.

The Wolves Nikola Pekovic started the second half on a 7-0 run, catapulting the visitors to a quick 57-51 lead before three minutes had ticked off the clock. But things started to slip from there, and the Celtics eventually mounted a 17-4 run and pulled ahead by as many as seven before settling in at a 74-69 lead headed into the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter was confounding, confusing, and disappointing. The Wolves managed to pull ahead on an ill-advised but true Alexey Shved three-pointer at the 4:22 mark, and gained a 92-90 lead on a Kevin Love left wing three on a beautifully drawn-up play out of a timeout. It was the last time the Wolves would hold the lead in the contest.

With coach Rick Adelman using a hybrid bench-starter lineup down the stretch, the Wolves offense stalled. The ball wasn’t finding itself inside to Pekovic, and the Celtics played Love tightly, just as we’ve seen from other teams down the stretch and most recently, the San Antonio Spurs last Friday night. Kris Humphries and the Celtics other front court players were physical in the post, denying the catch in both the low and high post.

On the perimeter, they crowded him as necessary (Love shot just 2 of 11(!) from long range on the night), and the Martin-less (and Rubio-less, given his putrid performance) Wolves offense did not have an answer. It was all she wrote for Minnesota, as the Celtics stumbled to the win while their offense wasn’t much better. The Wolves played the foul game at the end and ended up pulling the final score to 101-97.

Quick Notes

– As mentioned, Rubio was awful. He shot 2 of 12 from the floor, and only played 22 minutes as Adelman sat him in favor of Barea and Shved in the entire second quarter, as well as nearly all of the fourth quarter. He finished with 6 points, 5 assists, 3 assists, 2 steals, and zero turnovers. And his jumper didn’t look all that bad, despite the fact that it wasn’t falling, aside from his very first and last attempts of the game. It was at the rim where Rubio struggled so much. And that continues to be disconcerting.

– Love was good, even though he obviously had an off-night with his shot. Legs on a back-to-back were bound to be an issue, and sure enough, he did much of his damage inside and on the boards. He finished with 27 points (9 of 26 shooting, 2 of 11 from deep, and 7 of 11 from the stripe), 14 rebounds, 1 assists, 1 block, and just 1 turnover. His defense on Sullinger and Co. was nowhere near what it was last night, when he was spectacular against Zach Randolph in Memphis.

– The Wolves offense struggled the entire night. Without Martin, Minnesota hit on just 8 of 29 three-point attempts (27.6%) in a performance that was another horrible flashback to Wolvesdom circa 2012-2013. Rubio, Brewer, and Hummel all played miserably on both ends of the floor.

– Bright spots for the Wolves included some fantastic first half minutes for Dieng, which was followed up with some decent fourth quarter minutes. While not receiving the benefit of the doubt from the officials at all (something to do with his rookieness and/or gangly-ness, for sure), there were a couple obvious calls to be made. It was somewhat reminiscent of Pekovic’s sub-par stints on the court as a rookie.

Shved also continued to show life, although he did have a couple of ill-advised jumpers down the stretch. Mbah a Moute played his best game in a Wolves uniform, shutting down Gerald Wallace, among others on the defensive end, and shooting 4 for 4 from the floor, scoring 9 points and pulling down 6 rebounds.

– Cunningham appeared to roll his ankle severely late in the fourth quarter on a play in which Jared Sullinger was called for an offensive foul. Obviously, it’s impossible to know what the issue is, but here’s hoping it isn’t a lingering sprain, like the Mike Miller ankle issues from a few years ago or J.J. Barea’s from last year.

– The Wolves will be home to face the 21-4 (!) Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at 7:00 CDT.

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Tags: Avery Bradley Boston Celtics Jared Sullinger Kevin Love Kevin Martin Minnesota Timberwolves NBA News Nikola Pekovic Ricky Rubio

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