Memphis came into tonight's contest on a 20-game winning streak on their home floor along with holding the league's best record thus far at 10-2. Even with that in mind, the Grizzlies haven't necessarily been at 100% lately, as roughly half the roster has been suffering through an ugly stomach bug that has affected as many as seven players.
If the Grizzlies were still feeling under the whether, you couldn't tell by watching this game. Their hard-nosed, physical identity disrupted Boston from the jump and the Memphis big fellas didn't waste any time bullying in the paint, as the rough and rugged tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 19 points in the first quarter and helped Memphis to a nine-point advantage early on.
The Celtics shot just 32% in the first quarter, scoring only 16 points as their stagnant offensive attack beat itself by settling for tough perimeter shots. Kelly Olynyk was particularly cold to open the game, as he knocked down just one of his first seven shots. Needless to say, that's not the kind of start anyone wants to get off to at FedEx Forum. Boston moved the ball and their bodies a bit better in the second frame, where they played more efficiently on the offensive end and tallied 25 points, but they also gave up 30 in the process.
Lead by a 10-point outburst from the one and only Jon Leuer in the first half, Memphis got a steady collective performance out of their second unit and they were able to extend their lead to 14 heading into the locker room at halftime. Thanks to a buzzer beating triple from Tayshaun Prince's corpse, they carried the momentum with them.
Boston made it interesting behind a 10-2 run to kick off the second half, but it turned out to be a little fool's gold. This was no nail-biting comeback story in the making.
Memphis head coach Dave Joerger opened the second half the same way he opened the first, daring the Celtics to stop the towers from controlling the game. In fact, he went to it damn-near every possession for a heavy stretch in the frame, as Gasol and Randolph scored Memphis' first 19 points of the third quarter.
The Celtics have come out on top in the points in the paint category multiple times this season, but they were absolutely manhandled inside tonight. Memphis scored 66 points in the paint (Boston - 38), outrebounded the Celtics by 12 and got anything they wanted offensively, shooting 53% as a team overall. Marc Gasol brutalized everyone in his path, dropping 32 points to go along with eight rebounds while his partner Z-Bo tallied a monster double-double of 16/16. Hell, even Jon Leuer had his best game as a pro, finishing with 19 points, seven boards and four assists.
Trailing by double-digits for the majority of the game, and down by as many as 21, the Celtics scowled their way to a 17-point loss against a flat out far superior squad, 117-100.
The best word to describe the Celtics tonight is "stagnant."
Boston played hard in the second half after a slow start, but even beyond their glaring interior disadvantage in tonight's game, they've got a lot to tighten up on the offensive end of the floor. Brad Stevens' troops made some things happen out in transition, but were all over the place in the halfcourt and chose to operate outside-in to their demise. Of course, attacking the paint is much easier said than done when you've got guys like Gasol and Randolph on the back line, but it is imperative for the Celtics to heavily increase their motion and get more at the rim.
Kelly Olynyk bounced back beautifully from an individual standpoint in the second half, where he scored 15 of his 18 points and did a great job of using his craftiness and mobility to his advantage. Jared Sullinger shot the ball well from the outside (3-6 from deep) on his way to 13 points and really worked hard off the ball all night long, but his hands were more than full and he got a little veteran schooling from Randolph on how to throw your body around and get position.
Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner brought a lot of energy off the bench and made a lot of things happen offensively when the team was desperate for a spark, but the Celtics were unable to maintain a steady rhythm. Rajon Rondo may have had something to do with that, as the Celtics leader laid an egg with a rather uninspired four point, five rebound, four assist performance.
This was an ugly game, plain and simple. I'm glad it's over, so are you and so are the players.
The Celtics will be back in action at the Garden on Sunday night, where they'll host the up-and-coming Portland Trail Blazers at 6:00 pm ET.