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.

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

CLEVELAND – There are 240 minutes of play in an NBA game, but Boston’s 112-99 Game 4 loss to Cleveland came down to seven (six minutes and 46 seconds to be precise).

That would be the amount of time left in the second quarter that LeBron James spent on the bench with four personal fouls (a first for him in the first half of an NBA playoff game ever) and Boston ahead by 10 points.

Boston could not have asked for a better scenario than that, especially considering how well they had played up to that point in the game and again, knowing that James wasn’t about to set foot back on the court until the third quarter.

But here’s the problem.

Boston’s 10-point lead when James left with four fouls.

Halftime rolled around and Boston’s lead was still at just 10 points.

Celtics players agreed that not finding a way to increase their lead with James out was among the more pivotal stretches of play in Game 4.

“They did a really good job of not letting it (the 10-point lead) get out of control while he was on the bench,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Every time we scored, they came back and scored.  They answered back with everything we answered.”

While many will point to that stretch as a time when the Celtics failed to make the necessary adjustments to increase their chances of winning, it wasn’t as if the Cavs are a one-man team.

“They still have two All-Stars out on the court,” said Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, referring to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “With the best player in the world they go to unreal, but they’re still a pretty darned good team when those guys are out there.”

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points which included him scoring 12 of Cleveland’s 14 points in the final 6:46 of the second with James on the bench.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, and you know, you can tell he puts in a lot of work in his game, a lot of respect from myself, my teammates,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to do a better job at defending him as a unit, trying to make everything hard on him. He definitely got a great rhythm going tonight, and I felt like we had a chance to make it harder on him.”

James still finished with a strong stat line for the night – 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

As good as he was on the court, the Celtics have to be kicking themselves for not doing more with the time James on the bench in the second quarter which in hindsight, was among the bigger factors in them now returning home facing elimination as opposed to being tied at two games apiece in this series.

“What are you going to do?” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love. “You have to continue to fight through it. At halftime, we were down 10. We made some adjustments on the defensive end and we just fought; we needed to. They got everything out of us tonight in that second half, but we played more inspired basketball as well.”