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.

Acciari nearing a return for Bruins after missing a month

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Acciari nearing a return for Bruins after missing a month

BRIGHTON, Mass. – He hasn’t been cleared to play just yet, but fourth line energy guy Noel Acciari is closing in on a return to the Bruins lineup. 

Acciari joined in for a Bruins morning skate for the first time in 14 games at the end of last week, and practiced with the team again Monday for a morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. The 25-year-old has missed almost exactly a month with a lower body injury, and said he can thankfully now see the light at the end of the injury tunnel for a healthy return to the B’s lineup. 

“It was getting lonely with all the guys on the road, and with me just skating with Frankie [Vatrano] and Zee [Chara],” said Acciari. “It’s great to be back out there with the guys, and it’s good to be back. Each skate I feel a lot better out there and just trying to get my conditioning back. Just being back with the guys is a great feeling, and it’s a big help.”

The fourth line has been okay in Acciari’s absence, but it seemed to be lacking the same kind of energy and hard edge the Providence College standout provided when he was healthy. That was part of what led the B’s to call up the similarly rugged Anton Blidh from Providence at the end of last week, and could provide some interesting energy line options when Acciari is ready to return. 

“I’ve played with [Blidh] before, I’m used to him and I know what he brings to the table just like he knows what I can do,” said Acciari. “So it would work out well [if we played together] I think.”

Acciari has two assists and a plus-1 rating along with four penalty minutes while averaging 10:01 of ice time in 12 games this season, and proved to be very good at unnerving opponents simply by playing all-out all the time.