Skeleton crew Celtics fall apart in second half, fall to Timberwolves, 108-103

Before recapping the Celtics 108-103 loss in Minnesota, let’s get this mess out of the way.

Eight players for the Celtics were in health/safety protocols: Jayson Tatum, Dennis Schröder, Josh Richardson, Aaron Nesmith, Enes Freedom, Bruno Fernando, CJ Miles, and Justin Jackson. Marcus Smart, just because adding insult to injury is funnnnn, was out with a hand laceration. But Al Horford returned after a stint in health/safety protocols. Grant Williams, who missed the last five games in protocols, also returned. Plenty of familiar faces were available for Boston — Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, and Romeo Langford filled out the starting lineup alongside Horford.

The same cannot be said for the Timberwolves, who were missing — *takes a deep breath* — Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, Taurean Prince, Naz Reid, Jarred Vanderbilt, and McKinley Wright IV due to health/safety protocols. Patrick Beverley was also out; he just exited protocols and is reconditioning in order to return to competition. That’s all five typical Minnesota starters, plus a bevy of role players.

Needless to say, neither team was exactly whole. But then again, is any squad of late? At one point, when referencing where Minnesota’s Nathan Knight went to college — William & Mary, FWIW — Brian Scalabrine told Mike Gorman, “I don’t even know where that’s at.” The NBA is in shambles.

As for the game, it was just as ugly as each team’s injury report. The first quarter set the tone; despite the teams combining to score 52 (Boston led 29-23), neither team shot the ball particularly well. The Celtics shot 32 percent from the field while Minnesota shot 34 percent. Boston’s advantage can primarily be attributed to a 15-4 run toward the end of the quarter, as well as six offensive rebounds that allowed them multiple scoring chances despite their poor shooting.

By halftime, the Celtics had withstood a Minnesota surge and built a double-digit lead, leading 56-45 at the intermission. Payton Pritchard capped off a strong quarter for Boston with a deep through to push the lead to 11; he had 13 at the half. Jaylen Brown was the only other Celtic in double figures with a game-high 15 through one half. Romeo Langford stuffed the stat sheet, scoring four points and adding two rebounds, two assists, four steals, and two blocks. Pacing the T-Wolves were Jaylen Nowell and Malik Beasley with 10 and eight, respectively.

Boston began the second half with an effort that, thankfully, showed signs that more of the same was to come, though Minnesota showed signs of a scrappy comeback being in the works throughout the third. They only trailed by five when the fourth quarter began, but the Celtics were at least able to move the ball effectively in the third, with teammates finding their open counterparts in their best, most operative locations. Think Grant Williams in the corner for a triple, or Jaylen Brown in his beloved painted area, just above the restricted area. Brown had 20 by the end of the third, while Williams had 15, draining three of his four three-point attempts to that point.

Yet it was Payton Pritchard — who has maintained a plus 8.9 net rating when playing alongside Jaylen Brown this season — who continued to put together perhaps the most effective evening, if not a case for more minutes once the rotation returns to normal. Through three, he had 15 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. On a typical evening, that might be the sign of a blowout in favor of Boston.

But nothing is typical in the NBA right now, and that Minnesota’s skeleton crew was able to make it a game rather quickly to start the final frame was a perfect representation. With the newly-signed former Celtic Greg Monroe receiving extended time and Knight having a career night that will make Scalabrine do some proper research on his alma mater, the Wolves quickly eviscerated Boston’s lead, building a six-point lead of their own with just over eight minutes remaining.

The next few minutes were taken up by a sloppy back and forth affair, the kind that you’d expect someone like Jaylen Brown to take over and turn the tide for his team. And yet it was Monroe, Knight, Nowell, and other typical reserves for Minnesota who put together a team effort that the Celtics simply couldn’t replicate. Even when they had double-digit leads at certain points in both halves, it never felt like the game belonged to the visitors. To make matters worse as it related to the fourth quarter, every bucket for Boston was answered by a slew of poorly-defended buckets in response from Minnesota. The Timberwolves shot remarkably well in the fourth, and it wasn’t because they got lucky.

Boston’s players are better on paper and overall, but the steadiness was missing yet again. Four-quarter performances from this team are becoming increasingly rare, and if they don’t start putting them together soon, the season will slip away faster than you can say “inconsistent.”

Brown finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. Pritchard added 22 of his own. For Minnesota — who, again, were down all of their typical rotation players except for two — Nowell poured in 29 points, while Knight had 20. Jaden McDaniels (17), Malik Beasley (15), and Monroe (11) also finished in double figures.

The Celtics return home on Wednesday to kick off a much-needed four-game homestand, their first foe being the Los Angeles Clippers.

For more postgame coverage of another Celtics meltdown in Minnesota, tune into the the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown. Plus, the guys will discuss Jaylen Brown as the lone alpha, Payton Pritchard at the point, and the welcomed returns of Al Horford and Grant Williams.

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