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.

Blakely: Celtics made the right choice in not pursuing Cousins

Blakely: Celtics made the right choice in not pursuing Cousins

NEW ORLEANS -- There will be a significant faction of Celtics Nation who will see DeMarcus Cousins’ trade to New Orleans as a lost opportunity for the C's, who could have offered a much more enticing trade package than the one the Sacramento Kings accepted.
 
The Kings received nothing even remotely close to a king’s ransom for Cousins, acquiring him in exchange for rookie Buddy Hield, journeyman Langston Galloway and ex-Pelican Tyreke Evans (who has never been the same since his Rookie of the Year season in 2010), along with a protected first-round pick and a future second-round selection.

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While the knee-jerk reaction is to focus on why Boston decided to not pursue a trade for Cousins, more important is what the non-decision means for the moment and going forward.
 
Think about what the Celtics have done in the last three-plus seasons.
 
They went from being a lottery team to one that has the second-best record in the East. They're holding the potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft; at worst, the pick will be in the top four or five. They have three of the most team-friendly contracts (Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder) in the NBA. They have promising prospects overseas as well as in the D-League. And they're led by a coach who has improved his coaching acumen -- and the team’s win total -- every year he's been on the job.
 
And it's all enveloped by a culture with a high level of selflessness, which has created a locker-room environment that has been more about fighting for each other than fighting one another or others off the court.
 
Do you really think Cousins’ talent would have trumped the baggage he'd be bringing to the Celtics if they'd acquired him?
 
For him to have fit in with this team would have required him to make the kind of changes that, frankly, I just don’t see him being capable of making at this point.
 
On more than one occasion, “not fitting in” with the Celtics culture was given to me as the reason why a Cousins-to-Boston trade never gained any traction with the team’s brass. Or coaching staff, for that matter.
 
While there's no denying that he's arguably the best center in the NBA, Cousins is a high-risk, high-reward talent that makes sense to pursue if you're a franchise which has nothing to lose by adding him to the mix. Like, say, New Orleans.
 
The Pelicans are 11th in the Western Conference despite having Anthony Davis, who has been asked to carry the weight of a franchise that has yet to figure out the best combination of talent to surround him with and find success.
 
The addition of Cousins not only provides Davis some major help, but serves as a reminder of just how desperate the Pelicans are.
 
While there are mixed reports on whether the package of assets the Kings agreed to was the best they could have received for Cousins, there was no way they were going to get anything close to comparable talent in exchange for him.
 
And that was solely due to the risk that any team was willing to take on in order to acquire him.
 
At some point, the Celtics need to take advantage of an opportunity to go all-in for a superstar player. But this was not that time, or that player.