Tonight, the Boston Celtics will be taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves without Paul Pierce who injured his right ankle in the first quarter of last night’s game against the New York Knicks. For the first time in six seasons Boston will have to play a game without the Big Three, who are all out due to injuries. If this was a playoff game there is no doubt Pierce would be playing, but with the season coming to a close, health is more important than positioning for the postseason. Luckily for the Celtics they’re facing the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves.
However, securing a win tonight will not be easy. There are three keys to victory for Boston. If they play the way they’re supposed to, even without Pierce, the Celtics will walk away adding another victory to the win column.
- The Celtics have to slow down Ricky Rubio. Allowing him to operate in the open floor and giving him time to make precision passes will eventually kill the Celtics later in the game. He’s the engine that makes the Timberwolves go, and if you slow him down, or at least make him sputter, Minnesota’s offense will do the same. Boston’s guards will have a tough assignment, especially Avery Bradley, but if he plays at the top of his game, covering Rubio like a shadow, the Timberwolves will have to look to someone else to step up and lead them to victory.
- Boston needs to push the tempo and rebound. For the Celtics, they go hand in hand. When the front line boxes out and the back court are on the run, fast break opportunities open up. However, they’ve had a hard time rebounding on both ends of the floor which has allowed opponents to get second chance points, and has diminished Boston’s ability to run the up-tempo offense. The Celtics win games when they run, plain and simple. In New York, the Knicks completely took Boston out of their rhythm, forcing them to take bad shots and staying out of the paint. It all starts with rebounding. If Boston keeps Minnesota off the glass and gets out in transition as much as possible they’ll win this game.
- Jeff Green needs to step up in a big way for Boston. With Paul Pierce out, it will be up to Green to score a majority of the starters’ points tonight. But to have a great game scoring 25-30 points, Green needs to stay out of foul trouble. He has a tendency to pick up quick fouls so he’ll need to tone down his defensive intensity and play smart. With him being the go-to-guy tonight, look for him to be aggressive early, starting the offense, and possibly finishing the possession with a strong layup or posterizing dunk. If there is a time he shows his full offensive arsenal, it would be tonight. He has no one else to share the scoring with, so it’s up to him to have a Paul Pierce-like night and get the Celtics a victory.
Starting April off strong is important. With the playoffs starting in three weeks, the Celtics will need to gather as much momentum as possible heading into the postseason. Health for this team should be the number one priority, but playoff seeding is close behind on the itinerary. Boston cannot afford to face the Miami Heat in the first round, and even though they’ve had success against the Indiana Pacers, staying away from the top two teams in the East is a must if they want to go far in the playoffs.