1. This game was a microcosm for the Celtics season to date. They got behind, made you question where and who they are as a team, played great in the second half and came away with a win. If we’ve learned anything about Boston under Brad Stevens, it’s that they are at their best when things look their worst. Next time around, maybe we (meaning all of us!) should hold off on the overreactions and just see how things turn around.
2. Now, to completely ignore the above advice, the first half was a mess. Memphis got whatever shots they wanted, many of them at or near the basket. The Celtics looked sluggish and a step slow on defense. On offense, they were sloppy. The Grizzlies did a good job collapsing on drives and forcing turnovers, and it took until the second half for Boston to adjust.
3. One example of the sluggish play came late in the first half. Marcus Smart has the ball poked away and Gordon Hayward decides to let the ball go out of bounds instead of grabbing it. Mike Conley has no such plans and steals possession for Memphis:
4. The above clip isn’t really representative of Hayward’s game against the Grizzlies though. He turned in a nice effort, helping to keep the Celtics somewhat afloat in the first half and then making some big plays late. Nothing jumps out of the box score, but Hayward was a stabilizing force.
5. Speaking of not jumping out of the box score, the stats show kind of a ho-hum night for Jayson Tatum. He got only six shots, with all three of his makes coming in the first quarter, but Tatum found other ways to make an impact. He came up with four steals, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out five assists. It’s great to see Tatum make an impact in other ways besides scoring. Oh! He did this too!
Tatum with the MONSTER putback! pic.twitter.com/pfFeOrN7DT— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 30, 2018
6. When the Celtics picked it up in the second half, they did it in a big way. A lot of it involved ball pressure and quick rotations on defense. And most of that was led by Smart making Smarty plays. Boston held Memphis to 39 points on under 31 percent shooting, in addition to forcing the Grizzlies to cough the ball up 10 times. This steal late helped set things up to seal the game for the Celtics:
7. Teaming up with Smart to lead Boston back was Kyrie Irving. Irving was as off as anyone in a Celtics uniform in the first half, as he scored just four points. In the second half, Irving exploded for 22 points. On this play, the two guards got together to help Boston climb back. Smart ripped it away from Marc Gasol in the paint and Irving ripped the nets on the other end:
8. While Smart and Irving made the plays that stood out visually, two bigs made a massive difference for the Celtics. Guerschon Yabusele played some of the best minutes he’s played in the NBA, and he did it during crunch time. Daniel Theis was in the midst of a second straight rough game, so Stevens turned to Yabusele and the Dancing Bear delivered. In 16 minutes, Yabusele had three points, four rebounds and two blocks. But those numbers don’t tell the real story. He was +11 for the game, and his energy helped get Boston back in the game. Terrific night for one of the Celtics biggest projects.
9. And of course “Average” Al Horford delivered when it was needed most. After Yabusele helped Boston scrap back in the game, Horford stepped in to close the game. He played great interior defense down the stretch and hit two of the biggest shots in the game, as Horford scored nine of his 18 points for the game in the fourth quarter. On this play, Horford buries a three-pointer to put the Celtics up four. The play itself isn’t special, but Horford never hesitates and just lets it rip:
Then, with Boston poised to close it, Irving and Horford run pick and pop to perfection. Again, no hesitation from Horford, and as Mike Gorman said on the broadcast “Goodnight!”: