Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Winning the second quarter

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Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Winning the second quarter

WALTHAM Every quarter of play presents a different kind of challenge for the Celtics this season. But no quarter appears to be more troublesome than the second, which has become a first-rate problem for Boston.

The Celtics have been outscored in the second quarter in all but five games this season.

Their record in those five games?

A perfect 5-0.

Saturday's 91-88 loss at Milwaukee was yet another example of how vital the second quarter of games has been to the Celtics' success this season.

While the C's did a nice job of limiting the Bucks to just 91 points scored, 36 of them came in the second quarter while the Celtics countered with a less-than-stellar 21 points of their own.

"I was upset with the second quarter defense," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "That was the difference in the game, if you want to point to one thing."

It has actually been a huge factor in keeping the Celtics from having the kind of record that so many envisioned they would be able to pull off at this point in the season.

Rivers has a pretty good idea why his team struggles so much in that quarter, and to lesser degree, the end of third quarters too.

"Just look when Kevin (Garnett) goes out (of the game), for the most part," Rivers said. "That's an area we have to fix."

Garnett typically leaves the game about halfway through the first, which has often been when opponents gain momentum that carries into the second quarter.

And in the third, Garnett is usually subbed out about midway through which -- just like the first quarter -- is often when teams get into a flow and put the C's in an uphill battle.

Aware of this, Rivers said he is considering a slew of options which includes changing up his rotation.

"And it may be other things," Rivers said. "I don't know what it is yet. But we're working on it."

Figuring out how to be more effective in the second quarter will be one of the many challenges awaiting the Celtics tonight when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves. Here are some other keys to tonight's game to watch.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: It's not coach speak when Doc Rivers talks about the Timberwolves as being a great rebounding team and not just a good one. They shot better than 53 percent from the field in their Tuesday night win over Philadelphia, and still had a double-digit (plus-13) advantage on the boards. Anything short of keeping the rebounding margin close could spell big trouble for the Celtics.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Josh Howard. The Captain is due for a monster game after averaging 15 points and six assists in Boston's last three, two of which the C's lost. Howard earned his third start of the season on Tuesday, and came through with season-highs in points scored (16) and rebounds (10) for his first double-double of the season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Even though the Celtics split the two games Rajon Rondo missed while serving a two-game suspension, the C's ball movement was surprisingly strong in his absence. It'll be worth monitoring if they can continue to be that efficient with their ball distribution now that Rondo has returned.

STAT TO TRACK: Although you certainly couldn't tell in Minnesota's win over Philadelphia, three-point shooting has been a problem for the Timberwolves this season. Despite connecting on 13-of-25 3s (52 percent) taken against the Sixers, it still remains a clear and present danger to their chances of beating the Celtics. Minnesota is shooting 30.5 percent on threes this season which is at the very bottom of the NBA standings (No. 30 out of 30 teams) in three-point shooting.

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

For weeks the speculation regarding Josh McDaniels wasn't a matter of "if" but "when."

But while national media had McDaniels signed, sealed and delivered to multiple landing spots, the proposition that he'd leave at all was never a likelihood. 

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The Rams weren't attractive to him from the outset. Jacksonville didn't excite him, either. And on Monday, he passed on the 49ers opportunity. 

The lure of a blank slate in San Fran at quarterback and GM didn't outpace the uncertainty of going cross-country to work for a seemingly dysfunctional franchise that's cycled rapidly through coaches and has an unrealistic sense that it's a long, long way removed from its glory days, the only remnant remaining from that being perhaps the logo on the helmet. 

With four kids and a job McDaniels considers one of the 10 best on coaching -- head man or no -- he will stay on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator.

"I was really impressed with (Niners owner) Jed York and (team executive) Paraag Marathe . . . and the people that came from the 49ers organization," McDaniels said on a conference call this morning. "They did a great job with their presentation. Humbled to be included in that process. At this time it's just best for my family and myself to remain here in New England and focus on this year's playoffs and finish out the year however it turns out."

The same faulty speculative reasoning that had McDaniels as good as gone from the Patriots will move on undeterred today and surmise that McDaniels is staying with the Patriots because he knows, or has been promised, that he'll receive the head coaching job when Bill Belichick steps aside. 

While the Kraft family certainly thinks highly of McDaniels and that could come to pass, anyone tapping their foot and checking their watch waiting for Belichick to step down is in for a long wait. He's showing no signs of wrapping it up and, while I haven't been told directly McDaniels isn't the automatic successor, he wouldn't be taking interviews at all if he were assured that. 

What will be interesting to see is whether interest remains high in him for other jobs or the perception that he's never going to leave means teams don't bother to ask. San Fran obviously had its heart set on McDaniels. Even though Nick Caserio passed on the chance to interview with the Niners for their open GM job, the team did talk to Louis Riddick about the spot. He and McDaniels have high regard for each other. 

Between McDaniels, Caserio and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the people closest to Belichick on the coaching flow chart all had chances to go somewhere else and all passed on the chance. It's another example of not why the Patriots are good but why they remain good. Stability. 
 

Monday, Jan. 15: Matthews jersey sells for big money

Monday, Jan. 15: Matthews jersey sells for big money

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wondering what Claude Julien would do if one of the Bruins players was running Facebook Live during his postgame comments.
 
*Auston Matthews is obviously making a huge impression in Toronto as his Centennial Classic jersey sold for over $11,000 at a charity auction.
 
*Clark Booth knows it’s time to talk about the NFL, but instead he wants to talk about Milt Schmidt. I agree with Clark.

*Sabres goalie Robin Lehner says that his Buffalo teammates need to start doing their job as the season circles down the drain.

*Pierre McGuire talks with TSN sports radio about the Ottawa Senators, and the tough road trip coming up for them.
 
*PHT writer Cam Tucker has more bad news for the Tampa Bay Lightning as Ryan Callahan is going to be out for another four weeks with a lower body injury.
 
*As the Detroit Red Wings continue to round up the bottom in the Atlantic Division, Thomas Vanek may become trade bait.
 
*Peter Budaj is giving the Kings the saves that they need with Jonathan Quick out long term with injury.
 
*For something completely different: Tom E. Curran points out some togetherness issues with the Pittsburgh Steelers based on Antonio Brown’s Facebook post.