1. Once again, the Celtics seemed to use a formula that works to win: The starters get it going with good ball movement, the bench provides a spark with solid play, and Kyrie Irving closes out the game down the stretch. But, like the Raptors game, it was a little clunky at times.
To start with something good, Irving was delivering some spot-on passes, as he finished with 11 assists. Basketball purists might say he hot-dogged it on this behind-the-back pass to Marcus Smart for a three-pointer, but it was the right pass at the right time:
And then on this play, Irving used his gravity as a scorer to draw both of the Grizzlies big men, which opens up Al Horford for a wide-open triple:
2. When the reserves came in, they came in ready to play, led by Jaylen Brown. Brown finished with 12 points, including some highlight defensive plays. He may eventually work his back into the starting lineup, but for now Boston is benefiting from Brown’s energy off the bench.
3. Terry Rozier was good for a second straight game. He was all over the place on defense, scored 10 points and picked up four assists, including this beauty on the break to Brown:
4. While most will focus on him hitting 6-of-8 from behind the arc, Marcus Smart put together a highlight film for Defensive Player of the Year voters. The shooting was awesome, as he’s now up to 37.4 percent on three-pointers for the season. But these three defensive plays stood out. On this first one, he digs down hard and just rips the ball away from Marc Gasol, who had two hands on it. Gasol has some of the strongest hands in the game, but Smart doesn’t care:
Then, Smart is back as the lone defender to play a 2-on-1 with Justin Holiday and Jaren Jackson Jr. This should end in a dunk for Jackson. Nope:
Finally, Memphis is in last gasp territory, so the Celtics need a stop to close it. Garrett Temple puts up a corner three, but watch Smart. He slides down to block out the 6’11’’ Jackson. You know who comes up with the rebound:
5. One of the bumps in the road in this game came in the second quarter. The Celtics coughed up seven of their 17 turnovers in the second period. And the vast majority were unforced. That allowed the Grizzlies to turn an 11-point deficit into a lead at the break. The turnovers also caused Boston’s defense to get out of rhythm and led Memphis, who barely cracks 100 points per game, to score 38 points in the second quarter.
6. After halftime, the Celtics got it back together. And some good ball movement got them started. Smart has the hot hand, but two players close out on him. Last year, he takes this shot. This year? Marcus Morris gets an easy layup:
7. Part of what helped Boston put it all together in the second half was Brad Stevens making good on something he said he wanted to do pregame: playing Al Horford and Aron Baynes together. Against Memphis, who generally plays with two traditional bigs at all time, it was the right time for Stevens to break out his two bigs lineup. The defense Horford and Baynes brought, along with helping control the glass, helped turn the game around.
8. Speaking of defense, I’m not sure Baynes will ever get an easier block than this one. Let’s also note, Baynes moved his feet well and played fantastic initial defense, before getting the type of block most of us put on our kids in the driveway:
9. For the second straight game, Irving closed it. Against Toronto, it was a flurry of uppercuts late that knocked out the Raptors. This one was a series of jabs throughout the second half that wore down and eventually finished off the Grizzlies. What got Irving going? Shelvin Mack yapping at him. Following the game Irving said:
Irving’s choice was to dominate, as scored 28 of his 38 points in the second half, including 20 in the third quarter. He also became the first Celtic to have back-to-back games of at least 27 points and 11 assists since Larry Bird in 1986. Pretty good company there.
Irving had a lot to say over the last week about his teammates, his journey to becoming a leader and Boston’s struggles with consistency. What got lost a little was him taking ownership and putting a lot of it on himself. Games like this go a long way towards Irving and the Celtics being the team they can be.