Celtics-T'Wolves preview: Love on Boston's mind

Celtics-T'Wolves preview: Love on Boston's mind
December 16, 2013, 10:45 am
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BOSTON — If you're taking about NBA players with some girth, game and the ability to knock down the three ball, Minnesota's Kevin Love is the man.

Following a similar NBA path is Boston's Jared Sullinger who will be the first to acknowledge that he's not quite in Love's class . . . yet.

"He has confidence now," Sullinger said of Love. "He's playing really well. He's got his body in great shape. He's playing at a high level. There are definite parallels in our game."

Said Boston head coach Brad Stevens about Love: "Love's playing at an MVP level."

At the very least, Love's numbers alone -- 25 points and 13.6 rebounds per game -- put him in the league MVP conversation. But his case is only enhanced by Minnesota (12-12) playing better basketball, including wins in three of their last four games.

Like Love, Sullinger continues to try and strike a perfect balance between using his big body to be effective around the basket, while at the same time taking advantage of his ability to bury threes.

"You have to understand what you do best," Sullinger said. "I love playing inside. But at the same time, you have to pick and choose when you want to go inside, when you have to step out."

In Both of Boston's wins over New York this season, Sullinger punished the Knicks' paper-thin frontcourt with bully-ball like plays around the basket for lay-ups and put-backs.

But in Boston's 103-86 win over Cleveland this season, he relied on the three-point shot to be effective.

"I was playing against Andrew Bynum," Sullinger said. "I knew I couldn't get a lot of shots off inside. So I decided to step outside and shoot it."

Just as the Knicks and Cavaliers had to deal with Sullinger's inside-out game, opponents of Love and the Timberwolves have the same dilemma to deal with on a grander scale.

"He's a nightmare," Stevens said of Love. "His conditioning level is high level. His commitment level is clearly high level. He's a good guy for young players to look up to in how he approaches things."

Here are more keys to tonight's game.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics are catching the Timberwolves on the second night of a back-to-back set of games, so that should give the Celtics a better chance at limiting Minnesota's up-tempo pace. The Timberwolves average 100.5 possessions per 48 minutes, which ranks second in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kevin Martin. Limiting this half of the M2K (Minnesota's two Kevins) tandem is critical for Boston to win. As good as Bradley is defensively, it's hard to imagine that Martin who is the Timberwolves' second-leading scorer, will be held scoreless two games in a row. Locking him down on Sunday was -- surprise, surprise -- former Celtic Tony Allen, now with the Memphis Grizzlies. It was the first time Martin was scoreless since Feb. 14, 2012 when it was the Allen-led Grizzlies shutting him down when he played for the Houston Rockets.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green's consistency has been a huge factor in the Celtics' improved play of late. He's averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, with his quarter-to-quarter scoring just a shade over 4 points every quarter. You can bet Green remembers his last game against the Wolves more vividly than he would care to share. In Boston's 106-88 loss to Minnesota last month, Green had two points while missing all six of his shots from the field. It was the first time Green failed to make a single basket since a 116-110 Celtics win over Orlando on Nov. 25, 2012. He missed all nine of his shots from the field in that game.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston's ability to hold their own on the boards with Minnesota will be critical to their chances of limiting the Timberwolves getting out in transition and scoring second-chance points. When it comes to fast-break points (16.5) and second-chance points (15.8), Minnesota ranks fifth and fourth in the league, respectively. As for rebounds per game, the Timberwolves grab 45.2 per game which ranks sixth in the league.