Celtics-Wolves review: C's overcome second-quarter issues

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Celtics-Wolves review: C's overcome second-quarter issues

BOSTON The second quarter was once again one of the Boston Celtics' weaker quarters of play.

But it didn't matter much on Wednesday as the Celtics put together a strong second half surge that propelled them to a 104-94 win over Minnesota.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers was pleased with his team's play overall, but would have been remiss if he didn't take note of the team once again having its problems in the second quarter.

"The second quarter was not one of our better quarters," Rivers said. "But the second half defensively was terrific."

Minnesota outscored Boston 21-20 in the second quarter. In 18 games this season, Boston has been outscored in the second quarter 13 times.

And of those five games in which they generated more points than their opponent in the second, the C's have gone on to win all five of those games.

Figuring out how to be a more effective team in the second quarter remains one of the challenges for the C's this season. Here are some other keys in tonight's game outlined prior to tip-off.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: It's not coachspeak 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.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston did more than hold its own on the boards against the Timberwolves - they actually won the rebounding game with 45 boards compared to 41 for Minnesota. "We were pretty good," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "That's a hard team to rebound against, and we held our own."

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.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce had a quietly effective game with 18 points, four rebounds and a pair of assists while Howard had 12 points and three steals but not a single rebound. "You know we're challenged rebound-wise," said Pierce who added, "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 put bodies on people, go after rebounds, box out, those little things that are going to help us win games."

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.

WHAT WE SAW: Rondo have a very Rondo-like game with lots of assists (a game-high 11) and a decent amount of points (17 points). Rondo said it took him "two seconds" to get his rhythm back after missing the last two games while serving a two-game suspension for pushing Brooklyn's Kris Humphries.

STAT TO TRACK: Although you certainly couldn't tell in Minnesota's win over Philadelphia, 3-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 3s this season which is literally at the bottom of the NBA standings (No. 30 out of 30 teams) in 3-point shooting.

WHAT WE SAW: Minnesota was launching the 3-ball once again, but didn't have nearly as much success as they did the previous night in Philadelphia. The Timberwolves were 6-for-19 shooting 3s against the Celtics, the last of which came at the game's conclusion from rookie guard Alexey Shved.

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

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PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

He may have been left off of the NFL Network's Top 100 list, but Jamie Collins isn't flying under the radar at Pro Football Focus.

On PFF's list of the top 10 defensive players in the AFC, the Patriots linebacker came in at No. 8 and was given the description as the top linebacker in the conference.

Collins' versatility within the confines of the Patriots defense is what makes him so valuable, PFF's John Kosko explains: 

"He doesn’t dominate in any one role like Luke Kuechly does in pass coverage and run defense, but he is very good at all facets of the game. Collins has the athleticism to cover TEs and HBs effectively, the explosiveness to rush the passer, and the size and strength to defend the run. 

"The former Southern Mississippi linebacker is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, and allows Bill Belichick to employ a defense that confuses opposing quarterbacks. With the only knock against Collins being his 34 missed tackles the past two seasons, the Patriot is the best linebacker in the AFC."

Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in football last year, per PFF's numbers. He ranked behind only Carolina's Luke Kuechly, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Indianapolis' Jerrell Freeman and Seattle's KJ Wright. 

Fellow Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower earned the 10th-highest grade for linebackers last season, according to PFF -- a grade that likely would have been higher had his snap-count (602 in 2015) approached that of Collins (792).

While Collins is a rare physical talent, the argument could be made that it's Hightower who is the more important player to the Patriots defense given his prowess as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He also has myriad responsibilities as the extension of the team's coaching staff in the defensive huddle. 

In order to slow down opposing passing games, many Patriots defensive packages employ either five or six defensive backs and just two linebackers. Lucky for them, they have two of the best in the conference.

Both Collins and Hightower are entering contract years this year, and finding a way to keep them in-house figures to be near the top of the list of priorities for the Patriots front office.