Fresh off a defeat at the hands of the bruised and battered Utah Jazz, and a series of mediocre defensive performances, the Boston Celtics entered tonight’s game against the floundering Memphis Grizzlies in need of a bounce back win. They got it. Barely.
The victory was another example of the Celtics somewhat unnerving ability to play to their level of competition. The Grizzlies, now losers of 17 of their last 19 games, looked dead in the water at the close of the first quarter.
Boston tightened the screws on the defensive end of the court in the game’s first period, allowing just 12 total points on just 23.5 percent shooting. The Grizzlies’ offensive ineptitude may have exaggerated the Celtics’ effectiveness to a degree, but Boston played with an intensity and energy that had been missing in recent nights.
Those things dissipated in the game’s final three quarters, as the Grizzlies cut the Celtics’ lead to 8 by halftime, and took a lead before the start of the final frame. Marc Gasol was at the middle of it all, pick and popping his way to an abundance of open shots, and piling up 28 total points. Tyreke Evans complemented the big Spaniard’s performance with 25 of his own.
Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the way for Boston. The former scored a game high 20 points, and dished out 6 assists. The latter dropped 19, along with 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
That their efforts came in a close win and not a blowout is reason for some slight concern. The Celtics had the look of a team ready to run away and hide at the end of the first quarter, but couldn’t find the requisite consistency to put the game away early.
Such has been their struggle throughout the year, a challenge they’ve had particular difficulty with in the last few weeks. It hasn’t come back to bite them much yet. Boston keeps winning close games, and they still have more wins than any other team in the NBA. That’s what ultimately matters.
Still, if the Celtics want to compete at the game’s highest level, they need to find a way to string together full games of competent play on both ends of the court. That’s not what they got tonight, which isn’t ideal. Then again, it’s not a referendum either. Boston was playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and had to deal with heavy legs and weary minds.
A more lopsided victory would have been preferable, particularly given the way the game opened, but at the end of the day, a win is a win.