The Celtics picked up right where they left off against the Lakers on Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was close after the first quarter, but then the offense started clicking because of stops on the defensive end. It was a 52-12 run by Boston after Memphis took a 42-35 lead in the second quarter that sealed the game and led to a stress-free win.
The Grizzlies had 19 total turnovers (16 through three quarters) which were a result of Boston’s tenacious defense. Every starter had a steal in this game, and the team tallied up 11 steals total. In addition, the Celtics had 9 combined blocks on the night with Daniel Theis leading the charge with three of his own. It was an impressive two-way game from Theis who continues to grow into a reliable center for this team.
It was quite an impressive showing by this team as the Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the positive stories in the NBA. They came in averaging the most points per game in the league in January. The two players that have headlined this surprising surge are Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. They are the catalysts to this Grizzlies team, and the Celtics’ defensive game plan looked to focus on them most of the night.
With Jaren Jackson Jr., the Celtics had some early trouble with him in the first quarter. He notched 10 points in the quarter while hitting two three-point baskets putting the Grizzlies up. He cooled off a bit as the defense clamped down, leading to a scoreless second quarter for him as the game was then out of hand. He finished the game with only 13 points total and was really a non-factor after the first.
Jackson Jr. was a difficult match up coming in because of the Celtics’ challenges against impactful bigs. Gordon Hayward was tasked to face off against him first and, outside of a combined steal/block by Jackson on Hayward, Hayward won the head-to-hea. At first, it looked as if Jackson may take over this one, but the second quarter he only attempted two shots. The Grizzlies game plan was to attack Hayward one-on-one in the post, or to flare Jackson out around the arc to take a three-point try. It is something Coach Taylor Jenkins has been doing all season with Jackson.
These two clips show exactly this. All game long they were trying to clear out the paint for Jackson to work down low against Hayward. The first clip highlights the clearing out space until Daniel Theis, once again, switches over perfectly to help weak side, impacting Jackson’s patented hook shot in the paint.
With the second clip, it is the other variation of what the Grizzlies are trying to set up. Jaren Jackson Jr. just sat in the corner until Hayward cheated in too far giving Jackson Jr. a shot he was hitting in the first quarter. In the clip, you can even hear Coach Brad Stevens get on to Hayward screaming, “stay corner!,” not wanting Jackson Jr. to have an open shot. Hayward really held his own in this game against a key scorer on this Grizzlies team.
The other focus for the Celtics defense was Grizzlies’ headliner, Ja Morant. He has been a human highlight reel in his rookie season and was looking to make an impactful debut against the Celtics. Kemba Walker and this defense had other ideas as they locked him down for only 2 points, a season low.
Coming into the game, some were expecting Marcus Smart to start the game against Ja Morant, but early on Kemba Walker took the call and responded wonderfully. Morant was not able to do anything all game while only shooting 1-for-5 without any free throw attempts. Morant thrives around the rim and stopping him from getting there was the Celtics first and foremost goal of the night.
The most noticeable takeaway from Kemba Walker’s defensive night was his ability to stay in front of Morant on his drives to the basket. Morant has one of the quickest cuts to the basket, and it is why he has already made a living finishing around the basket. It takes a lot for any defender to keep up with, and Walker was very impressive in this regard.
Walker was able to fight through any screen action they threw at him, being able to get back after the big helped over. It was a cause of concern all night for Morant and the Grizzlies to where Morant was just not himself attacking at the rim. The front court defense by Theis and Kanter made it difficult for Morant to go anywhere even on the occasions he did get around Walker. This combined help was a huge deterrent on a big night for Morant.
All in all, it is very promising to see this Celtics team get back-to-back dominant wins lead by a solid defensive effort. It could have gotten out of hand after that awful stretch just a week ago. Fast forward to the present, and it looks as if all is resolved with the issues that were plaguing this team.