Minnesota fans have yet to see what the combination of D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns looks like in person on the court.
Since the Wolves acquired Russell, he and Towns have played in just one game — at Toronto a few days before the All-Star break. That wait is going to take longer now. Towns is now expected out for at least the next two weeks, while he and the Wolves treat a left wrist fracture Towns suffered in late January.
Towns was on the bench Friday, his left wrist in a brace as the Wolves lost to the Boston Celtics 127-117 at Target Center.
In the meantime, the Wolves have to keep integrating almost entirely new personnel from their series of trades earlier this month. There will be nights where that transition will go more smoothly than others — and more on the offensive end than the defensive end.
The Wolves had the firepower to keep up with the Celtics, one of the Eastern Conference leaders. They didn’t quite have the defensive chops to keep Boston from outscoring them, even though the Celtics were without All-Star guard Kemba Walker.
“We just got to play more,” guard Josh Okogie said. “Once we play more with each other, get to know each other more, we’ll be just fine. It’s not a one-thing fix — if we do this we’ll be better. It’s not that. It’s a whole new team. It’s no different than a new team blowing games in the beginning of the season because they’re just still trying to know each other. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Four Celtics scored at least 25 points, led by Gordon Hayward with 29. Jayson Tatum had 28 and 11 rebounds, Jaylen Brown scored 25 and Daniel Theis added 25 and 16 rebounds.
The Wolves cut Boston’s lead to one point multiple times in the fourth, but the Celtics had an answer every time. Boston put the game away as the Wolves’ late-game offense shriveled alongside the defense.
The score was 112-109 Boston with 4:57 to play, but the Celtics closed the night by outscoring the Wolves 15-8.
Russell had 18 points and 13 assists but shot 5-for-15. Malik Beasley scored 27 on 10-for-18 shooting while Naz Reid, starting in place of Towns, had 19 points. The Celtics outrebounded the Wolves 58-43 and had 56 points in the paint.
“I told our guys that we’ve got to hold each other accountable when we hit adversity,” Beasley said. “That’s something new for me. I’m going to make sure we keep fighting through and hold each other accountable. We can’t have bad body language and stuff like that when they go on a run. So we’re figuring it out on the fly, and we will get better.”
The Wolves can see where their issues are. First is rebounding, which is to be expected with Towns, their leading rebounder, out. But the Wolves are lacking in experience on the front line, and rebounding could be an issue even when he returns.
Second is defense, which is related to the rebounding. The defense, Okogie said, should get better with time (Boston shot 46% Friday).
“It’s a lot of blown coverages. Guys still getting used to the calls,” Okogie said. “Offensively I think we’re good. But defensively is kind of where at times we struggle, even when we try to get rebounds and stuff. But we’re getting there.”
On the bright side, Beasley again looked like a keeper as he jolted the offense with a spark in the second quarter, when he scored 16 points.
“I’m very happy with what he’s doing right now …” coach Ryan Saunders said. “One thing with Malik, he’s generating his shots out of the offense a lot, which is a credit to him, and a credit to Jordan [McLaughlin] and D’Angelo as point guards.”
Amid the issues defensively and on the glass, Saunders said there were multiple things he liked about the Wolves’ performance Friday. Now to pull it all together consistently.
“These guys are learning situations in games, learning the fourth quarter,” Saunders said. “They’re doing everything that’s asked of them right now.”