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Celtics lose cool then game to the Grizzlies

If the Celtics have 17 steals in one game, they're supposed to win. If Isaiah Thomas puts together an efficient 35 points and 8 assists, they're supposed to win. But if they consistently lose composure down the stretch and crumble under the pressure, it's no surprise that the team has won only one game in their last five.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

At the 10:05 mark of the third quarter, an Amir Johnson three from the corner put the Celtics up 21 at 61-40.  For the next twenty minutes, Memphis would flip the script and outscore Boston 61-37.  Avery Bradley put it best:

Condemning words for a team that's started 2016 on a 1-5 skid.  The Celtics weren't great in the final frame, but let's concentrate on the third quarter woes that have plagued the team since it's loss to the Lakers on December 30th.  Yesterday, I wrote about their slumps coming out of halftime and how a lot of it correlated to leaning on Isaiah Thomas too much.  Against the Grizzlies, the team did a good job spreading the wealth, but Thomas did take a few hero shots.

Here's a transition three for IT4.  With Johnson crashing the pain and engaging Mario Chalmers, Thomas could have skipped the ball to an open Avery Bradley for a set shot.  For what it's worth, Bradley is a robust 46.6% on the left side above the break.

Thomas, on the other hand, has been struggling with his three point shot this season and a pull up three in transition isn't exactly the best basketball play.  He's shooting 21-of-69 for 30.4% from behind the arc with 18 or more seconds on the shot clock.  In pull ups, he's 30 for 103 for 29.1%.  By comparison, in catch-and-shoot situations, he's 39 for 109 for 35.8%.  But hey, it's one ill advised shot out of Thomas' very efficient 35 points.

With a 17 point cushion halfway through the third, the Celtics just got lazy and complacent.  Crowder does the right thing here and shades Chalmers away from the middle of the floor, but Johnson allows himself to get pushed off the block by Zach Randolph to allow Chalmers an open lane to the rim.

A few possessions later, some modest ball pressure from Memphis causes an Amir Johnson turnover.  It's not all on AJ either.  Nobody cuts hard to the ball or comes for a dribble hand off.

More lackadaisical play from the Celtics.  Crowder shoots a lazy fade away with plenty of time left on the shot clock, Chalmers grabs a rebound and proceeds to go coast-to-coast for an and-1.  Sullinger gets credit for getting back and attempting to draw the charge, but a guard needs to get Mario to give up the ball.

It was another rough shooting night for Marcus Smart as he tries to get back into game shape after missing 20+ games.  He hasn't shot the ball well in his return, but he's still making plays on the defensive end.  At the end of the game, Marcus Smart committed a frustration foul after getting blocked on a potential game winner, but the missed shot was only the straw that broke the camel's back.  It was blunder in the making since halftime.

Smart entered the third quarter with the Celtics already in the penalty.  He fouled Chalmers twice on ticky tack fouls that gifted the Grizzlies free throws and after the refs failed to whistle Chalmers on a push off, he hit a wide open three with Smart giving up on the play.

The fourth quarter wasn't any better for the C's.  David Lee missed all six of his shots around the rim, the Celtics had only one assist on 6-of-21 shooting with five turnovers, and the team missed a handful of free throws in crunch time.  But even after re-watching the third quarter, a lot of this is nitpicking.  They went up against a tough road whistle that gave the Grizzlies 40 free throws.  It neutralized the Celtics' aggressive defense and they responded poorly, but like Bradley said, so much of this is mental.  Boston knows they're not this bad.  They just lost their cool down the stretch.  They're a young team that's figuring out how to deal with adversity and one of the toughest lessons to learn is the difference between being in control and being more aggressive.  Smarter not harder, pun intended.  On to New York.

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