MINNEAPOLIS – The streak ended here at Target Center because the Celtics couldn’t adequately defend Anthony Edwards, who took his matchup with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum personally. The Timberwolves’ All-Star proved to be the best player on the floor Monday and the Celtics are no longer undefeated.
Edwards scored three consecutive baskets against a befuddled defense in overtime while Brown and Tatum either couldn’t get their shots off or committed silly turnovers playing iso-ball. Tatum’s late turnover led to a Mike Conley 3-pointer and the Timberwolves overcame the Celtics, 114-109.
Edwards scored 38 points on 15-for-25 shooting, picking his preferred matchup and torching any Celtic in his path. Tatum led Boston with 32 but committed six of Boston’s 16 turnovers. The Celtics shot just 39.1 percent and missed 28 of 39 3-point attempts.
Brown added 26 points and Kristaps Porzingis scored 20 but the Celtics were erratic offensively all night, missing layups and makeable jumpers.
For coach Joe Mazzulla, he chose to view the experience as a lesson. The Celtics are going to get their opponents’ best punch. Minnesota celebrated the win afterward as if it had won the Super Bowl. The Timberwolves understood the league’s best team through the first two weeks and matched the Celtics all night.
“I thought that was a hell of a game,” Mazzulla said. “It was a lot of fun. Very competitive. Our opponents are always going to bring the best out of us. So I thought we competed at a high level, but I thought their defensive toughness outmatched our offensive toughness at times. But I thought both teams played a really good game for game [six] of the year.”
The game almost slipped away in the fourth quarter, when Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels made an open 3-pointer from the right wing for a 95-90 lead with 5 minutes, 2 seconds left. Yet, the defense responded with some stellar possessions and Boston was helped by the porous free throw shooting of Rudy Gobert, who missed three attempts down the stretch, allowing the Celtics to tie the game on a Brown layup with just under three minutes left.
Brown came back with a corner 3-pointer for a brief lead with two minutes left but that would be the Celtics’ final points of regulation. McDaniels, taking advantage of being left open with the doubling on Edwards, hit his fourth 3-pointer for a 101-101 tie with 1:41 left. The Celtics had two chances to win, but Al Horford lost his dribble and tripped over his feet for a turnover.
Brown then missed a potential winning 3-pointer from the center circle in the final second. Tatum’s two free throws put the Celtics ahead 105-103 in overtime, and they got the ball back with a chance for a two-possession lead, but Tatum lost his dribble and Conley followed with a pull-up three off the break. The Celtics would never lead again.
The theme was a lesson learned. The Celtics made their share of mistakes through five games but had always found their way out with clutch late-game execution. That was not the case Monday.
“I think it’s great [to have games like this],” Porzingis said. “Sometimes when you’re winning, you keep growing, growing, growing. But you either win or you learn. We’re going to learn something from tonight. We could have executed better at the end. We did some things differently throughout the game, but it’s the losses like this that a team grows the most.
“We needed this. Every team needs this. We needed it probably the most because we [were] undefeated and [the Wolves] are playing well.”
The third quarter was an offensive struggle — 6 for 22 shooting — as the Celtics watched a 7-point lead turn into a 5-point deficit because they missed a bunch of layups. Jrue Holiday was the main culprit, following his 1 for 7 first half with a 1 for 6 quarter, including two missed point-blank layups. Tatum and Brown labored to find their shots against the relentless Minnesota defense.
And the bench didn’t help much at all, with Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet the lone reserves to convert a field goal. Porzingis, matching up with the 7-foot-1-inch Gobert, also had trouble at the rim and then was mired in foul trouble. After missing a layup, he picked up his fifth foul late in the third period.
The Wolves got a lift from Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who buried a pair of 3-pointers and started the fourth quarter with a midrange jumper.
The Celtics were erratic offensively in the early going, unable to build a sustainable lead despite runs of 8-0 and 9-0. Brown and Tatum were their usual selves with a combined 27 points on 12-for-22 shooting in the first half. Porzingis added 12 but he also missed six of nine shots, including an alley-oop dunk.
The Celtics committed nine first-half turnovers and were 5 for 19 from the 3-point line.
Boston was fortunate playing most of the first half with Minnesota All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns on the bench with foul trouble. Edwards compensated for Towns’s absence, scoring 19 first-half points on an array of driving floaters and layups. Towns eventually fouled out with just 7 points.
Edwards picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter but came back in overtime and saved his best for last.