Joe Mazzulla drew up a two-for-one in a tie game with 37 seconds remaining. Playing double-big late in Minnesota, Al Horford caught a long rolling pass as the Timberwolves showed two defenders against Jayson Tatum. Horford tried dribbling past Kyle Anderson as three Celtics stars spaced behind the three-point line, and Horford slid out-of-bounds. Two plays later — Jaylen Brown stepped back into a decent look over Jaden McDaniels and missed the game-winner.
The Celtics went on to lose, continuing their offensive devolution by shooting 2-for-7 with one assist and two turnovers in overtime as Anthony Edwards sealed the Wolves’ 114-109 win. Mazzulla and Tatum didn’t sound phased on the ground after a 5-0 start, a strange game where foul trouble flowed in both directions and an opposing star caught fire late — Edwards scored 38 and hit three late shots in a row. A familiar collapse in the clutch for the offense should sound some alarms though. The Celtics posted an 89 offensive rating (-5.5 net rating) in nine clutch minutes on Monday, along with a 0.60 AST/TO ratio, 50 eFG% and a 98.84 pace.
“I just had too many turnovers,” Tatum said, laughing. “I had way too many turnovers. I gotta be better. We all gotta be better, but especially me. Clean those up in late game situations for sure. We played hard, we competed, so a lot of things on the offensive end we can learn from. Late game, our communication could be better, knowing where certain guys are going to be. Just some little things that we can clean up.”
Boston found answers in their first two clutch finishes, wins against the Knicks and Heat. Kristaps Porziņģis keyed weak side actions on opening night and screening by Derrick White and Jrue Holiday beat Miami. The Celtics posted a +87.6 net rating in seven clutch minutes before Sunday. White (personal) didn’t rejoin the team in Minnesota and Holiday struggled, finishing 4-for-16 (-19 +/-) with three turnovers. Porziņģis picked up five fouls by the end of the third, but only attempted six threes in his 35 minutes and 0 field goals appearing in all five overtime minutes as color commentator Brian Scalabrine begged for his involvement.
Instead, back-to-back scoring possessions to open the extra period devolved into Tatum over-dribbling and losing the ball against Edwards and isolating McDaniels, who shut him off throughout the loss. Brown committed an offensive foul screening for Holiday. Holiday didn’t help by calling his own number to back down Mike Conley and miss.
Brown didn’t look Porziņģis’ way behind the three-point line, instead shooting an errant leaner after declining Kristaps’ screen over Rudy Gobert with 1:20 remaining and Boston trailing by seven. Mazzulla didn’t call timeout until 0:16 remained down by five. Holiday had finally delivered a touch to Porziņģis that created free throws and Tatum stole an Edwards pass to pull within one possession before McDaniels hit a key mid-ranger. Edwards had hit three straight jumpers following Celtics misses.
“We were trying to make the right play,” Tatum said, mentioning a pass he threw out-of-bounds in a 98-98 game. “I thought (Brown) was in the corner, he slid to the slot. I caught the ball in the paint, his man helped … those are some of the things we need to clean up. Just knowing where guys are gonna be. That’s not my fault or his fault. We gotta get on the same page. That’s a play that really sticks out.”
A 33-26 finish in Brooklyn and blowout wins over the Pacers and Wizards will overshadow the loss in Minnesota for now, but underlying stats that built the foundation of a 5-0 start predicted some regression. Boston and the Clippers shot better than any team entering Monday (59 eFG%), the Celtics forced few turnovers (10.5 TOV%, 30th) and while they forced 24 Wolves errors in the loss, they committed 18, falling into a three-team tie for 10th in their own turnover rate (14.2%). Figuring out teammates and trying to move the ball could’ve stood as an excuse for a new-look group. They only entered the loss ranked 28th in total passes, though, and 25th in assists.
Isolation and post-up success, along with plentiful transition opportunities uplifted the league’s top offense through its hot start. Their ability to dominate mismatches set up the fifth-most iso possessions in the league (9.8) for Boston prior to the Minnesota game, creating 1.25 points per possession that ranked third behind Sacramento and Dallas. The Celtics only scored a 16th-ranked 0.91 PPP in those situations, with Tatum vaulting from 0.93 PPP to 1.54 PPP with his new-found post power. McDaniels and the league’s top defense in Minnesota, staying close to him all game, forced Boston to find other answers that they couldn’t when it mattered most.
“Screen more, get some stops,” Tatum said. “I didn’t rebound for s*** tonight. If I rebound the ball, I can push it. We get some stops, set more screens, it’s not always about getting the ball. They didn’t want to leave my body, so if I screen better and allowed (Payton Pritchard) to turn the corner, and we got some open shots, then it might’ve opened up more for me. I gotta be better at that next time.”