By Patrick Whalen
The Celtics are looking to start fresh with the changing of the year and they began their 2019 part of the season back at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Celtics beat the Wolves in their only previous matchup in Minnesota on December first by a score of 118-109. That game was notably Gordon Hayward’s best game of the year with 30 points just days after Kyrie told the Celts star to be more aggressive offensively. That win was also during an 8 game winning streak for the Celtics when they were playing their best basketball of 2018 despite missing many players due to injury. For tonight’s game injuries are still a big factor for the Celtics. Coming into tonight the Celtics were still missing Aron Baynes with his broken left hand and Robert Williams with his hamstring issue. Plus the Celtics still have Al Horford on a minutes restriction of 25 minutes. But on top of those two injuries which have already caused both to miss multiple games, the Celtics would also be without perennial all-star point guard Kyrie Irving as he would be held out with a scratched right cornea that he suffered last game against the Spurs. This meant for the Celtics someone else would have to step up and carry the load offensively. It also meant that Brad Stevens would need to mix up the starting line up and he would go with Terry Rozier to play along with the usual lineup of Smart, Morris, Tatum, and Horford.
With the Wolves in town and no Kyrie, people were wondering if Gordon Hayward could repeat his performance from last month and he exceeded even that with 35 points off the bench on 14-18 shooting and 4-7 from three and even had a couple of dunks like this one.
Despite leading the team in scoring he still had 5 assists including this one to Al Horford in the fourth quarter.
But Gordon did not even score a single point in the first quarter. So who carried the Celts in the first, of course, none other than Terry Rozier filling in for Kyrie Irving. Rozier scored 11 of his 16 points in the first quarter to jump-start the Celtics offense. Rozier would also have 5 assists and 5 steals on the night balling well on both ends of the floor and even doing his best Rondo impression.
Al Horford also had a good night with 15 points and on 7-9 shooting with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks including this one on his fellow countrymen Karl-Anthony Towns (Basketball-Reference.com).
Marcus Morris, who has arguably been the Celtics most consistent player, had just 12 points in 24 minutes and left the game with a neck injury that Brad Stevens is saying is a day-to-day issue. Marcus Smart also left the game at one point with what was called a right shoulder strain but returned later in the game. It was on this play the injury happened.
Hayward despite not scoring in the first ending up dropping 13 of his 35 points in the second quarter to have the Celtics leading 60-42 at the half, the Celtics shooting 59% from the floor also helped build that lead. One of the big keys of the first half lead was holding the Wolves young star Karl-Anthony Towns to just 4 points. Towns would finish with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists on the night as he turned it up in the second half and pulled the game closer than what the score made it appear. Offensively though Andrew Wiggins kept the Wolves within striking distance at the half and kept them in the game throughout the second as he finished with 31 points on 10-18 shooting. Tyus Jones also had a productive night as he got the start in place of the injured Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose. Jones would finish with 14 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals. What the Wolves lacked that could have helped their comeback efforts which fell short in the 115-102 win for the Celtics was the 15 points a game that the injured Robert Covington normally gets. Josh Okogie got the start for him and had just 3 and Taj Gibson did not step up and had just 8 points (Basketbaal-Reference.com). Even if Covington is in the game I still think the Celtics win but it definitely would have been closer than a 13 point final.
With this win, the Celtics now move to 22-15 on the season and 4.5 games back for first in the east. Marcus Smart isn’t expected to miss time but as I said before Morris will be day to day which means there will be more pressure for Hayward to string good games together and for Tatum and Brown to step up. Kyrie is still listed as questionable for the Celtics next matchup, which is another home game against the Mavericks which will be there second of a four-game homestand. The Celtics lost the only matchup between the teams this year in Dallas by a score of 113-104. The Celtics will look for their young players and vets like Hayward and Horford to set up in the absence of now potentially Morris and Kyrie along with no Baynes or Williams. Also, the Celtics have finally released a target return date for Aron Baynes. Baynes, who has been out with his broken left hand since December 19th, is targeting MLK day (January 21) to return setting his total timeout at just over a month and closer to the 4-week estimate than the 6 week (Rotowolrd.com). Lets see if the Celtics can take this win and turn it into some momentum to start 2019 on a hot streak.