The NBA returned to Montreal for another year this past Sunday, Oct. 20 as part of the 2013 NBA Canada Series. The game featured the Boston Celtics and the home team Minnesota Timberwolves playing in the Bell Centre as a part of the league’s pre-season schedule. This is the third time in four years that the NBA has hosted a pre-season game in Montreal. The Timberwolves pulled off the victory, winning the match 104-89 over the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics. Kevin Love starred for Minnesota with 22 points on 6-14 shooting, while pulling down nine rebounds in over 32 minutes of play. Boston’s Gerald Wallace tallied 16 points on 50 per cent shooting in the loss.
The Timberwolves (3-2) have used this pre-season as a project for integrating Love back into the lineup, after the power forward sat out the majority of last season due to hand and knee injuries. The team also acquired shooting guard Kevin Martin this summer in a three-team trade with Oklahoma City and Milwaukee, which sent Luke Ridnour and a 2014 second-round pick from Minnesota to the Bucks. As a result, the roster has had to learn to integrate Martin into the flow of its offence.
“It’s a really, really tough guard when you have a guy like [Martin] who is so fast, can get open, runs the break, and can shoot the ball from distance,” Love noted. “He only needs a split second [….] We have been waiting for a really solid wing scorer like Kevin who at one time was scoring 24 points a game. He’s a 20-point-a-night guy who’s [shown] that throughout this pre-season.”
Martin certainly got off to a quick start against the Celtics (1-6), as he netted three of his game-high five three-pointers in the first-quarter to give Minnesota a quick 11-point lead. Boston struggled to find a flow to its offence in the first half, often settling for contested mid-range shots and sloppy passes. However, the Celtics came on strong to finish the second-quarter, posting a score of 57-51 heading into halftime.
The Timberwolves appeared to gain traction going into the fourth-quarter, with back-up point-guard J.J. Barea replacing Ricky Rubio due to foul trouble late in the third. Barea scored six points within 90 seconds in the fourth to open up the gap between the two teams.
Rubio set the tone for the Timberwolves throughout the match with his aggressive mindset. The 6’4” point-guard out of El Masnou, Spain, attacked the paint looking to either draw fouls or kick the ball out to the team’s perimeter shooters. Rubio finished the game with seven assists, on par with last season’s average of 7.3 assists per game. Beyond his highlight-reel passes, however, Rubio has become a much improved shooter from three-point range. The 180 lb guard shot 2-3 from distance, in stark contrast to his 29.3 per cent three-point shooting from last season.
Although it is still early, it is clear that Rubio has worked hard to add another dimension to his game.
“He’s really been shooting the ball particularly well in practice,” Love said. “So I just told him, ‘Get it out of the way now,’ so when Oct. 30 comes around, we can start knocking them down even more. I know what he’s capable of.”
With Martin added to the roster, Love healthy, and Rubio shooting well, the three-point shooting for Minnesota looks to be a marked improvement over last season’s pedestrian 30.5 per cent figure. The biggest issues for the Timberwolves will be on defence, where the team lacks a legitimate interior defender—a necessity in today’s NBA game. Although Nikola Pekovic and Love can hold their own in one-on-one situations, neither offers a serious shot-blocking presence.
“We have to improve [on] defence,” Rubio said. “On offence we have enough talent to score. But our goal has to be to get some more stops. Because at some point [we’re] going to miss some shots, [so] on defence we have to be solid.”
In contrast to Minnesota, Boston’s hopes for the season run in a completely separate direction. After losing Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Head Coach Doc Rivers to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster off-season trade, the Celtics are looking to bottom out in hopes of snagging a top lottery pick in next year’s loaded draft. While the team waits for Rondo to return from an ACL injury, Boston will bank on the development of defensive-specialist Avery Bradley. With his improved shooting, ball-handling, and locker room leadership, Bradley’s development will be key for the Celtics’ future.
Timberwolves fans will look forward to a team that has the potential to return to the playoffs after a nine year post-season drought. However, Head Coach Rick Adelman must work to patch up the porous interior defence before the team can be treated as true contenders.
Minnesota hosts the Orlando Magic for its home opener at the Target Centre on Oct. 30. The Celtics will visit the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre for its first game of the 2013-2014 NBA season.