Celtics-Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell reacts after making a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter at Target Center on Monday night. Nowell had 29 points off the bench in the Timberwolves’ win.

The Celtics were down plenty of manpower on Monday night but the Minnesota Timberwolves were in a far tougher spot, personnel-wise, entering the matchup, with seven of the team’s top nine players in NBA health and safety protocols.

The visitors took advantage of an undermanned Wolves squad in the first half, building an 11-point halftime lead. However, Boston was outworked for much of the second half as Minnesota pulled away for a 108-103 victory with deep reserves like Jaylen Nowell (28 points) and Nathan Knight (20 points) leading the way. Backup big man Greg Monroe added 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his first NBA action in over two years, outplaying Boston’s bigs down the stretch.

The Celtics were without a number of key starters but they certainly had more talent on paper to take care of a Wolves team that was decimated by COVID-19. Instead, they dropped their seventh game over their last ten overall in disheartening fashion, leaving to some pointed words after the game from the head coach.

“One of our poorest losses of the year,” Udoka said. “A team that is as depleted as we are just out-hustled us late in the game, and it was a very undisciplined effort overall.”

That undisciplined defense stood out in particular on the defensive end in the fourth quarter, as the Timberwolves opened the frame making 11 of their first 12 shots from the field. Their passing led to many open looks and countless defensive mistakes by Boston’s lineup.

“Off-the-ball defense obviously stood out tonight, but something we’ve seen out here and defended well all year,” Udoka said. “To come out and get carved up like we did tonight was embarrassing.”

Udoka also made a sharp point of calling out Boston’s inability to hone in on the Wolves’ game plan and singled out Rob Williams’ for putting the Celtics in a vulnerable spot defensively with his decision-making.

“Lack of focus for sure,” Udoka said of what caused the defeat. “It’s something we’ve seen all year and guarded well, and whether it was communication — two guys off the ball got picked apart for layups, but even the fact with Rob (Williams) being out — the majority of his five fouls were undisciplined him leaving the floor, reaching, so he took himself out of the game as well. Just poor overall job coaching, playing, getting ready for this game, not understanding what we needed to do to win.”

With Jayson Tatum out of the lineup for at least another two games after entering NBA health and safety protocols, the challenges will continue to pile up for a Celtics team that has been without any consistency for over a month now. While some personnel reinforcements could be back in the lineup on Wednesday against the Clippers (Marcus Smart, Josh Richardson), Udoka’s more worried about the bigger picture with this group as the team let another double-digit lead slip away.

“Every game seems like it’s a new day with us,” Udoka explained. “And that can’t be the case. It can’t be three good quarters here and then one undisciplined quarter, same thing with Milwaukee in the third quarter. It can’t be a reset every game. You have to have some continuity, some consistency.”

“This game doesn’t have anything to do with next game in a good or bad way. We’ve played great games and come back and played bad and vice versa, played a poor game and come back and looked like the best team in the world. Lack of consistency is most concerning to me. Doesn’t matter who’s in or out.”