There is a level of dissatisfaction from the Celtics’ brass, even following victories such as Wednesday night’s against the Timberwolves. The organization wants the team to progress more consistently than it did in the past month.
Yet the Celtics slowly are beginning to play better, putting together prolonged stretches of polished play, such as in the second half of their 104-94 win over Minnesota at TD Garden.
Brandon Bass and Rajon Rondo sparked a third-quarter rally as the Celtics outscored the Timberwolves, 57-43, after the break. Bass scored 10 of his 12 points in the third quarter and Rondo, returning from a two-game suspension, finished with 17 points and 11 assists as the Celtics cruised in the fourth quarter.
And they were far from “soft,” as coach Doc Rivers had called them a week ago. The Celtics, last in the NBA in rebounding, won that battle against the Timberwolves, who entered Wednesday fourth-best in that category.
The Celtics finally stood up to a bigger and more physical team, fighting the mammoth duo of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic for loose balls they had been accustomed to relinquishing. They outrebounded Minnesota, 45-41.
“Well, we have to be that way every night,” forward Paul Pierce said. “You know we’re challenged rebound-wise, and a majority of these games we haven’t rebounded well, so that’s mainly what the last couple days of practice have been is to put bodies on people, go after rebounds, box out, those little things that are going to help us win games.”
The Timberwolves helped the Celtics by missing 16 of 30 free throws, including six by Love, who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Kevin Garnett scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who shot 52.6 percent.
The Celtics rallied from a 51-47 halftime deficit, tying it at 61 and finally forging ahead, 67-61, as Jason Terry delighted the crowd with a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock. And defensively they began getting stops, preventing the Timberwolves from getting any closer than 5 points in the fourth quarter.
After the first quarter, Minnesota shot only 40.3 percent from the field and missed 12 of 14 3-pointers. Love worked overtime for space in the paint while the Minnesota perimeter shooters were challenged by hands in their faces.
“We were aggressive from the early part of the game. We established a post early on,” Garnett said. “I thought defensively we played with a lot of energy. We made them go to their second and third options, which is something they don’t like to do, but we did a decent job on Kevin. He obviously had a double-double, but for the most part we slowed him down a little bit and controlled the tempo. Having Rondo back was big for us, I thought he brought a lot of big energy. He was excited that he was back and probably fed off that.”
Rondo’s streak of 37 consecutive games with 10 or more assists was snapped when he was ejected from the Nov. 28 game against Brooklyn. But he appeared to blend seamlessly into the offense upon his return. Yet he seemed hardly impressed.
“It’s just one game, you know,” he said. “It’s hard to say, we try to run off a couple games here, but we’re up and down. We lost last game and won this game. So we just gotta do a better job of being consistent. I think everyone’s pretty confident. Guys aren’t playing night in and night out the way they want to play. But you know that’s basketball, nobody’s gonna play perfect. We have a confident group of guys, it’s just knowing where those guys are gonna get their shots, and go from there.”
Boston began the second quarter with a 10-2 run as Rondo continually fed Garnett in the post. For the first 18 minutes, Garnett was the lone big offensive factor for the Celtics. He scored a pair of baskets during the run, and the recently more-assertive Jeff Green added 4 points as the Celtics looked ready to create some distance.
But those bumbling Celtics returned, in some stretches unable to get the ball into a set offense or even down the court without committing a turnover. The Timberwolves entered the break on a 19-8 run for that 51-47 lead. The Celtics committed six turnovers in the second quarter, three of those by Pierce, who looked a step slow in his matchup with Josh Howard.
The Celtics did not score for the final 1:47 of the second quarter and committed three turnovers in the final 63 seconds, leading to 5 Minnesota points. That offered no hint about the Celtics’ second-half execution, which was as precise as it has been in weeks.
“Yeah, we played our game the entire stretch. I think we’ve been doing it lately, honestly,” Rivers said. “I thought the Portland game was good, I thought the Milwaukee game was good in stretches, this game.
“I keep saying, you can feel it starting to come. It’s not here, but it’s coming, and you feel that. We’ve just got to push through. It’s going to be a great month for us.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.