The Boston Celtics square off against a Grizzlies team that will be fired up for this one. Currently defying expectations, the Grizzlies sit at 20-23, having just had their seven-game win streak ended at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans. That win streak has seen them rise into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with San Antonio just half a game behind.
Boston’s chances have also taken a big blow following the news that Jaylen Brown will be missing his third game in the last four. He sat out the team’s losses at the hands of both the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, only to return and help lead the team to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. This will be the 7th game Brown has missed this season. In his absence, the Celtics have gone 4-2.
#NEBHInjuryReport Jaylen Brown has been ruled out for tonight’s game due to a right ankle sprain.— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 22, 2020
Memphis will be at almost full strength with only Bruno Caboclo missing the game due to injury. Led by the exhilarating rookie Ja Morant along with second year player Jaren Jackson Jr, the Grizzlies will pose a tough task for the Celtics.
This is the first meeting between these two teams this season. With roster changes on both sides since their last battle last season, it will be an interesting watch. There is also an interesting sub-plot to this, with the Celtics owning protected rights to the Grizzlies first round pick. Jeff Clark also looked at some key aspects of this matchup in his article yesterday which looked at just how tough a task the Grizzlies pose.
Carsen Edwards (assigned to G league)
Romeo Langford (assigned to G league)
Jaylen Brown (ankle)
Robert Williams (hip)
Two way players
Possible Grizzlies Starters
Andre Iguodala (issues)
Bruno Cabocolo (Knee)
Josh Jackson (assigned to G league)
Two way players
Keys to the game
The Grizzlies have a deeper bench than what the Celtics currently do, filled with veteran talent who are all capable of making an impact in restricted minutes. If the Celtics are to take anything from this game, they will need to ensure their second unit is up to the task of matching Memphis’ scoring threat off the bench. Solomon Hill and Kyle Anderson will be primary targets for Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye. Shutting those two sharpshooters down should be a key focus point.
Too many times recently, Boston has dug itself a hole early on; against a team this deep that can’t happen. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. will pose the starting lineup issues should they stumble out of the gate. Alternatively, if Boston can punch them in the mouth early they could wilt just as the Lakers did the other night.
Protect the paint
With Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. both in the starting lineup, the pressure is on the Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter to make the paint a safehaven. Should the Grizzlies find success there early, it could start opening things up for their wings on the break.
The Celtics have been at their best when they have kept the ball moving, and nothing should change here. While Jaylen Brown is missing, the team has all three of its playmakers healthy for this one. Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker can keep things ticking over if their minutes are staggered, but the ball cannot be allowed to stick. We saw Boston attack tall teams with crisp passes hitting the cutters. It's a recipe for success.
Marcus Smart vs Ja Morant
The immovable object versus the unstoppable force. Ja Morant has been putting the entire league on notice this year. Dazzling with his array of dunk highlights, incredible passes, and seemingly unwillingness to ever back down, he has been unfazed by all that has been placed in front of him. But he hasn’t had the bulldog that is Marcus Smart hounding him yet, this will be a true test of Morant’s offensive ability and will be a battle Smart will relish heading into the game. Shut Morant down and you could kill their offense before it gets started.
Morant Season Stats: 17.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7 assists, 49 FG%, 40.5 FG3%, 80 FT%.
Daniel Theis versus Jonas Valanciunas
Theis has his work cut out in this one, but that’s been the story of his year so far and he has risen to the challenge admirably. Valanciunas is a solid big capable of stretching the floor and punishing teams on the glass. Theis will need to find a way of nullifying him early. If Valanciunas grows in confidence, it will become an issue. His ability to shoot from deep makes him a nightmare matchup for Kanter further adding pressure on Theis to get the job done.
Valanciunas Season Stats: 15 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2 assists, 59.7 FG%, 41.7 FG3% 74.2 FT%
Tatum vs Jackson Jr.
Tatum struggles when it gets physical down low, so he will need to get creative with his cuts and euro-step in this one. Jackson provides the Grizzles with a big body capable of blocking or altering shots down low and he’s no slouch on the other end either. This battle will be huge as the Celtics will be calling Tatum’s number early and often in Brown’s absence. This would be the perfect time for Tatum to decide to draw fouls on drives, or to see Theis seal the big man with regularity.
Tatum Season Stats: 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 43.4 FG%, 36.4 FG3%, 84 FT%
Kemba Walker vs Ja Morant
While it’s most likely Smart will be guarding Morant, it would make sense that Morant ends up with the unenviable task of guarding Kemba Walker. In terms of “know how” Walker has the edge here by a mile. Running the pick-and-roll should happen regularly allowing Kemba to get to work in the lane. Morant has the speed to keep up, no doubt, but too many bad steal attempts could put him in foul trouble early. The rookie may end up learning a lesson in this one.
Walker Season Stats: 22.1 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 44.6 FG%, 39 FG3%, 86 FG%
Overall, the Grizzlies are a deep team capable of scoring from all three levels while controlling the boards. Their bench is deep and filled with scorers. The Celtics will need to be at their best defensively in order to win this one. Should they make their rotations and close out quickly and aggressively they have every chance of ending the game victorious. Yes, Jaylen Brown will be a big loss on both ends of the floor, which is all the more reason to come out tonight and play hard every possession.