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Points of emphasis: Smart’s 3’s, Rozier’s hustle, and other trend lines highlight win vs. Memphis

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In a win against the Grizzlies, the Celtics continued to show improvement in all facets of the game.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Aron Baynes’ defensive rebounding

Before Aron Baynes broke his hand on December 19th, the Celtics were a top-10 defensive rebounding team with a 73.7% defensive rebounding rate. By comparison, Utah cleans the glass at a NBA-leading rate of 76.2% for the season. On Wednesday night, Boston beat the Raptors on the boards 52-39 and against Memphis’ big front court of Marc Gasol and Jaren Jackson Jr, the Celtics out rebounded the Grizzlies 49-42. Baynes alone had 7 offensive rebounds.

Before the game, Brad Stevens hinted at playing more minutes with Baynes and Al Horford together and for 8.5 minutes vs. Memphis, the duo was a +10 with a stingy 94.1 DefRtg. The Grizzlies pose a very unique problem in a modern NBA that features smaller lineups, but it’s not like Boston won’t see this in the future. All four teams head of the Celtics in the East pose some threat of a traditional big lineup so you’ll see this jumbo package more often.

Jason Tatum’s free throw attempts

Jayson Tatum only attempted two free throws in the game, but right off the bat, you could see his aggressiveness at play:

It’s clearly been a point of emphasis for Tatum to get to the line more in the second half of his second season. Over the previous four games, Tatum tallied free throw attempt totals of 7, 4, 11, and 3. As an 84.6% free throw shooter, he should get to the line more. It’s the next progression for the sophomore as he tries make that leap into stardom.

Marcus Smart’s threes

Are you sitting down? Marcus Smart made 6 of 8 from the behind the arc Friday night. What’s more, this wasn’t an anomaly. His percentages (and attempts) have been rising since the start of the season. Through eight games in January, he’s hitting a whopping 53.7% from 3. For the year, he’s shooting better than teammate Jayson Tatum and Klay Thompson.

As a starter playing next to Kyrie Irving (how cool is the Cobra-Ky nickname?), that was a part of his game that had to evolve. With Irving drawing so much attention, it was necessary for him to be a threat from outside, and if you ask Smart, he’s had faith in his shot and the work he’s put into it since before last season.

“I’ve always been the underdog and I’ve always bet on myself,” Smart said. :This isn’t new to me and, to be honest, it’s not even a surprise. I’ve been putting in the work and it’s starting to pay off.” Stevens mentioned in his post-game presser that this development could have come up last season’s if not for a couple of hand injuries in 2017-2018. That means no picture frames in hotel rooms, Celtics travel staff.

Terry Rozier’s hustle

If you look at Terry Rozier’s per-36 from last year’s breakthrough season and this year, they’re almost identical: under 40% shooting, 35-38% 3FG%, six rebounds, and 4 assists per game. And yet, Rozier has been the focus of so much of the fans’ frustrations this year. After a miserable stretch during the Celtics’ most recent three-game losing streak on the road where Rozier finished a -9, -20, and -11, he’s performed well against the Raptors and Grizzlies.

His box score stats haven’t exactly jumped off the page (10 points, 1 rebound, and 4 assists vs. Memphis), but his energy and activity on the floor have been noticeable. With Toronto in town, Rozier took it upon himself to pick up the Raptors’ point guards full court and to his credit it changed the momentum of the game after the team dug a double-digit hole for themselves in the first half.

Against Memphis, Rozier was a +9 with a 16.0 NetRtg in 18 minutes. He chewed opposing player’s bubble gum on defense and pushed the pace in transition and in the half court on offense. Two of Rozier’s four assists came on the fast break.

In Rozier’s defense, his transition from playoff starter to regular season, regular joe role player might be the most difficult of anyone on the roster. After finishing last year at the point, he’s playing more off ball with Hayward as the primary playmaker (some might argue a better role for Rozier, but a change nonetheless). He’s had to find smaller niches to be effective like ball pressure and pace pusher. That may not be the best situation for a player heading into restricted free agency, but at least over the last two games, he’s shown consistency in that role.