The Boston Celtics will try to bounce back from a late-game collapse when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night in Minneapolis.
Boston is coming off a 117-113 Christmas Day loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics led until the final minute, when Wesley Matthews hit a 3-pointer with 30.3 seconds remaining to put Milwaukee on top.
The ending spoiled a strong performance for the Celtics, who led by 12 early in the fourth quarter.
“Looking at it, I think we can only go up from here,” Payton Pritchard said. “We’re learning how we’re going to finish games. So, for us, we have to take it as a good thing. Now we’re just growing and then, eventually, we’ll get good at that area and be able to take care of it.”
Celtics head coach Ime Udoka told his players to stay positive as they look toward Minnesota.
“What I said to the group was, ‘We have to figure this out as a team, as a coaching staff, how to maintain these leads especially late in the games,'” Udoka said. “It gets a little frustrating, and sometimes it’s as simple as making shots. … It’s sometimes as simple as that, but the message is we’re very close.”
Minnesota, meantime, is looking to respond positively after back-to-back losses. The Timberwolves won four straight games before hitting their latest bump in the schedule, losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz.
One bright spot for the Timberwolves has been the recent success of Jaylen Nowell, who has scored in double digits in three of his last four games. Nowell spent much of the early part of the season watching from the bench.
“It’s everything,” Nowell said. “The fact that I’m coming out and they’re letting me play the way I like to play, it’s making it very easy to make the transition from not playing at all to playing 18 to 20 minutes.
“(They’re) just telling me to keep shooting. I do my best to take the best shots necessary, because with that green light, I also feel the responsibility to not take terrible shots and keep the offense flowing.”
Teammate D’Angelo Russell has been impressed.
“Hopefully everybody’s paying attention to him,” Russell said. “A young player in the league — you lose a player like that by not playing or not getting any minutes in the rotation. So it’s our job as veteran players to continue to stay on him and continue to give them that focus and let them know, ‘Your time’s coming. Be ready.'”
Both teams have dealt with significant roster challenges recently because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Minnesota finished the weekend with eight players in protocols, including Russell, Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns. Key starters Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt also were out.
The Celtics also have been slammed. In their most recent game, they played without Juancho Hernangomez, Justin Jackson, C.J. Miles, Josh Richardson, Grant Williams and others — all of whom were in health and safety protocols.
Minnesota is 9-9 on its home court this season. Boston is 7-11 on the road.
–Field Level Media