Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Boston Celtics

Feb 22, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) guarded by Boston Celtics guard Isiah Thomas (4) in the third quarter at Target Center. The Wolves win 124-122 over the Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) guarded by Boston Celtics guard Isiah Thomas (4) in the third quarter at Target Center. The Wolves win 124-122 over the Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports /

This is the eleventh part in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: In the 2015-16 season, the Timberwolves managed to split the season series against the Celtics. The Wolves didn’t give Boston’s team a proper fight at TD Garden, ultimately falling by a score of 113-99.

They looked much better at home, however, getting away with a narrow win in a very high-scoring match, 124-122.

Let’s take a look at the key losses, key additions, and overall high points of the Celtics-Timberwolves season series.

What’s New?

Key Losses

Evan Turner

I’ve liked Turner ever since his days with the Pacers; it always seemed to me that he’s one of the most underrated role players in the league.

He doesn’t make spectacular shots like Jamal Crawford, nor does he defend at the level of, say, Andre Iguodala. But even if you don’t notice him as much during the game, he usually does his job perfectly well on both sides of the floor, and the Celtics really seemed to be like the ideal team for him, primarily because their whole philosophy is built around lots of hardworking average or slightly above-average players. And though Celtics will probably work out how to replace him, he definitely would have been an important figure in this year’s team had he stayed in Boston.

Jared Sullinger

As for Sullinger, well, he was similarly productive for the Celtics as Turner in the regular season. However, poor performance in the playoffs may have been at least part of the reason why he’s not play for the Celts anymore.

Compared to the regular season, his shooting in the playoffs went down from 44 percent to barely 31 percent and his regular season per-game average of 10.3 points was cut in half.

While it would be short-sighted to condemn him for one bad playoff series, if he’s to make it to postseason play this year (and it would be a big surprise, if Raptors don’t get there), he’ll have to prove that he actually can deliver, when it counts.

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David Lee

Lee is quite a sad case, actually. Not so long ago Lee was averaging a near double-double with just below or, in some cases, even slightly above 20 points per game.

However, his minutes and, consequently, his numbers dropped radically in the 2014-15 season. Since then, Lee hasn’t been able to find himself again, playing for three different teams in the last two years and not coming even close to his averages earlier in his career.

The Spurs will be his fourth team in three seasons now and though he’s unlikely to be a leader there, either, that move was probably a smart move by him.

Will the Celtics miss him? After acquiring a big fish like Al Horford, definitely not. A win for both sides, I suppose.

Key Additions

Al Horford

If it wasn’t for Kevin Durant and his shocking move to the Warriors, Horford’s transition to the Celtics may have been the most interesting off-season shift. (Unlike Durant, of course, Al actually joined a team that he’d beaten and not the one he’d lost to the last post-season.)

With Horford, it is likely that the Celtics game may change a little bit as well. They now have two all-stars on their roster instead of one and that will definitely help Isaiah Thomas to maneuver with more ease on the offensive end of the floor.

Jaylen Brown

Due to very smart management (and in part due to very poor management by the Brooklyn Nets), the Celtics have been hitting some jackpots when it comes to the draft and the draft lottery.

Not only did they improve significantly and play like a very promising playoff-team a year ago, but they also managed to get the third-overall pick, choosing one of the most talented players in the draft in Jaylen Brown. How much is he going to contribute in his first year on such a strong team remains a question, but it’s probably not going to be long before he becomes one of the team’s leaders.

And on top of all of that, Celtics also hold the rights to this season’s Nets’ lottery pick. Seeing how bad the Brooklyn team looks (at least on paper), it’s safe to say Celtics have a real shot at even the first pick in next year’s draft. And with all the right moves the organization has done in the past few years, that would be just a perfect and very fitting cherry on top.

Gerald Green

Although for much of the early stages of his career Green was known as merely the player who does cool dunks (yes, just like our own Zach LaVine) and mainly played for weak teams, Gerald actually gave several great performances in last year’s playoffs for the Heat.

Even though his minutes were limited, he managed to make use of them and played well. I feel like he brings a very important veteran’s mindset into the team, which the Celtics will certainly benefit from.

Related Story: Timberwolves Season Series: 76ers

What’s The Same?

Isaiah Thomas and his ‘slick’ play. On a team with no superstars, Thomas’ name shines the brightest. The Celtics may not have any exceptional players, but Thomas has managed to make all those around him better. And all that while attracting the major part of defensive attention. With the arrival of Horford, I expect Isaiah’s productivity to increase even more.

Brad Stevens and his smart coaching. Stevens is a key reason for his team’s success. He does remind me a little bit of George Karl in that he managed the Nuggets to the playoffs after the departure of Carmelo Anthony, gathering a team with lots of decent, reliable role-players, but no superstar and leading it to the playoffs without much effort.

However, just like Karl in Denver, Stevens has struggled in the playoffs so far. With Horford coming to Boston and most of the team’s core staying this year, the coach will have to prove that he’s good not just in the regular season.

Marcus Smart & Avery Bradley‘s defense. In European basketball, many coaches are very fond of a saying that is something to the effect of, ‘You can have a bad day on offense, it happens. But you always have to work it off on defense.’ Well, that’s exactly what players like Smart and Bradley are doing day-in and day-out.

And even if they don’t make as many baskets, Celtics can always count on their defense. Without these two, Celtics would fall way below the league’s average on defensive rankings (as they’ve been around it last season). And since they don’t have Golden State’s offense, that would ultimately wipe away all hopes of accomplishing something big this season.

Keys To Victory

Rebounding. Nothing new here, as good rebounding often is one of the most important factors in deciding the winners. However, in last season’s encounters between the two teams it was particularly crucial. The Wolves lost the rebounding battle 36-50 in the loss while winning it 51-38 in the victory.

Cutting off Isaiah Thomas from the rest of the team. While Thomas is most definitely a great scorer, part of the Celtics success lies in his ability to spot open teammates and read the game. If the Wolves’ guards, particularly Ricky Rubio, can at least partly isolate Thomas from the others, the chances of winning the game would increase significantly.

Prediction. Optimistically, a split between the two contests. But for that to happen, the Wolves are going to need lots of small, yet crucial details to go their way.

Of course, even the worst team in the league or conference can beat the best in a single game. And the difference between the Wolves and the Celtics is no way near as huge as, say, that between the likes of the Nets/76ers and the Warriors/Cavs.

Next: Ricky Rubio's Pre-Timberwolves Career

The first of the two games in this series will take place on November 21st in Minneapolis.