Jayson Tatum’s offense and Marcus Smart’s defense overcame a 17-point deficit in the biggest comeback win of this Celtics season.
A night of shared frustration toward the officials, sparse defense, video replays and three massive runs in both halves by Minnesota and Boston nearly delivered the Celtics a runaway comeback victory. D’Angelo Russell, instead, delivered a 14-2 run to force overtime in the final 2:41 by bumping Grant Williams off him to create a sliver of space to hit the game-tying three off the glass as the final seconds ticked away.
The Celtics trailed by nearly 20 points in the first half, then Jayson Tatum exploded for a 50-point night with six threes and 12 free throws. Marcus Smart sprinted back on defense to force two steals and defended Karl-Anthony Towns in the half court. A failed challenge by Brad Stevens after Kemba Walker fouled Anthony Edwards in the third fired up the Celtics in a night where the officiating consumed their attention to that point. Grant, frustrated by a foul called on one of his second half box outs, looked to his coach who reassured his fundamentals and dead-eyed the official.
Walker sealed a 145-136 Celtics win with back-to-back threes midway through overtime and finished with 17 points. Tatum scored 53 points on 16-of-25 in 40 minutes, the most by a Boston player since Isaiah Thomas captured the hearts of Celtics fans forever with that many points in Game 5 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals. A volcanic second half after halftime masked horrific stretches by Boston on defense, but the Timberwolves had averaged 117 points per 100 possessions in limited time with Towns and Russell on the floor this year.
The Timberwolves’ season was just beginning in many ways tonight, albeit with the playoffs out of sight. No. 1 overall pick Edwards received new life in the rookie of the year race, when LaMelo Ball went down, and he slowly improved fighting shooting struggles early in the season. Towns missed 20 games with a wrist injury and COVID-19, Russell went down upon his return with knee surgery. Friday night’s trip to Boston marked only the seventh game Minnesota tipped-off with both of its stars in what’s spiraled into a last-place year.
Towns and Russell did not participate in the impromptu tank and the Wolves appeared disinterested in continuing it in the opening minutes. They blew up consecutive passing plays by Jaylen Brown and Walker, the second a botched handoff to Robert Williams III. Walker turned it over again, sending Josh Okogie out in transition and Walker chasing from behind into a collision at the rim emblematic of the first half. Okogie sounded off, received a technical foul, while Brown ran the other way for a three.
The warning from the officials did little to slow Minnesota’s aggression. They charged to 66 points on 55.3% shooting in the first half. Edwards slashed to the bucket on high ball action ran through Ricky Rubio and Towns. Okogie shattered a dunk into Tristan Thompson’s face on a one-dribble move off the catch into an outstretched reach to the rim over his head.
By halftime, Boston grew frustrated with the officiating and Minnesota led by as many as 15 without any worries in that department. The one point they lost grew irrelevant with each open cut to the lane. Edwards even bobbled an attempted pass driving toward the lane that landed in Naz Reid’s hands for a two-handed slam underneath and an assist early in the second quarter.
Tatum, starting 5-of-8 from the field with 18 points, flashed two skip passes for corner threes and attempted to carry a bench unit that lagged behind Minnesota’s. The Wolves gained a 26-12 advantage in bench points through the half and 15-3 on the fast break. Defensive struggles spared nobody and after Edwards crashed through Tatum for an offensive rebound and delivered a foul, Tatum walked toward the right corner and slammed the basketball into the ground and toward the rafters. A technical flew again — not the last of the night.
Walker drew another into the second half while Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren tried their best to pick one up, standing and approaching the court from their seats far behind the baseline to express their displeasure with the officiating amid a Boston comeback. Brad Stevens decided to harness that energy, challenging the foul call that set Walker off and losing, but drawing a massive response from his team to close the second half. Evan Fournier, out at least three more games after tonight in COVID protocol, chimed in from home, safe from T’s if not fines.
Touching the hair is a foul?
— Evan Fournier (@EvanFourmizz) April 10, 2021
Smart, into the third quarter, decided the Celtics should not lose to the worst team in the league. He chased down Jaden McDaniels after a Tatum turnover out fo halftime and blocked him. He hit a pull-up two in the lane and nailed a kick-out three following a Robert Williams III pass. He chased down Edwards after and forced a jump ball, winning it, against McDaniels that sent Brown out in transition for a pull-out two. Then, of course, he took over the defensive assignment on Towns.
As Tatum embarked to score 13 straight Celtics points into the fourth, Smart took two bumps from Towns near the post. Towns spun around him and hit Smart in the back of his head with his left elbow. Chris Finch pleaded by the video board, but another technical foul flew and gave Tatum a chance to practice his shot he’d use liberally into the final frame.
Tatum splashed back-to-back threes, slashed to the rim for a dunk before Boston’s bench rotated in allowing Payton Pritchard to toss a lob as Williams III slashed middle for a cutting slam to reach within 94-92 before the final buzzer sounded on a quarter that felt like three. That’s pace of play in 2021.
Walker hit two jumpers while Smart screamed near the same spot Tatum picked up his technical in the first half to begin the final quarter. Minnesota’s offense stalled, failing to convert four consecutive chances on one possession around the net. Williams III found Pritchard for a cutting two on the back line and Walker powered to the rim through McDaniels to deliver a 101-100 lead at the free throw line.
Williams found Pritchard for a corner three and Towns tried to spell Boston’s growing lead with a pair of buckets inside and out. Minnesota nonetheless fell behind 112-105 with Tatum catching a Smart pass for a three, then pulling up for another on the right wing that sent the Garden’s limited capacity into a frenzy.
Boston’s defense hardened during the 30-14 run to open the frame, but cracks still showed. Smart fronted Towns on an initial post up. An otherwise effective Tristan Thompson got beat on Towns’ follow, as the Wolves hung around late with an 8-0 burst toward the final minute. Russell hit a two-point jumper, a pull-up three and found Towns for another triple that rocketed Minnesota back within three. Then he splashed another three to score eight of his 16 points, before a pull up three over Williams’ head. Overtime.
Walker found Brown for a three early in overtime, before he splashed two on the left side of the three point line from Smart and Tatum that blew the game open. Tatum converted three straight free throws after a three-point foul to match Isaiah, and the Celtics sealed their biggest comeback win of the season.