The Celtics, who are set with the 3rd seed, take on the Memphis Grizzlies, whose playoff fate is still very much up in the air. They are in the 8th spot, but they are just 1/2 a game ahead of a very tough Trail Blazers team and 1 game ahead of the Spurs and the undefeated Suns. If they remain the 8th seed or the 9th seed, they will be involved in the play in tournament. It is possible that they could drop to 10th place, in which case they will be out of the playoffs.
This is the 7th seeding game for both teams. The Celtics are 4-2 in their first 6 seeding games while the Grizzlies are just 1-5 in their first 6 seeding games. The OKC Thunder was their only victory. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games while the Grizzlies are 3-7 in their last 10. The Celtics are 17-11 against Western Conference teams while the Grizzlies are 13-12 against the East.
These two teams met just once so far this season. The Celtics won 119-95 in a January 22nd game in Boston. The Grizzlies looked different during that game than they do now. Former Celtic Jae Crowder was starting for them but is now in Miami. Jaren Jackson, Jr was also starting for them, but he is out with a torn meniscus now. Also gone is Andre Iguodala who was traded to Miami as well.
The Celtics can help themselves with a win in this one as they own the Grizzlies’ draft pick and it would be in their best interest to help the Grizzlies to miss the playoffs. While it is possible that Brad Stevens could decide to rest his starters in this one, I think he will play his regular rotation in this game and try to beat the Grizzlies and then possibly rest them in their final seeding game with nothing on the line.
Daniel Theis is listed on the injury list with right foot soreness. He is listed as probable, but the Celtics may decide to err on the side of caution and let him sit this one out. If he does, we should see more of Robert Williams. The Grizzlies are short handed going into this match. Jaren Jackson, Jr. out with a torn meniscus. Justise Winslow is out with a hip injury. Jontay Porter is out with a knee injury. Tyus Jones is out with a knee injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Daniel Theis (foot) probable
Probable Grizzlies Starters
Jaren Jackson, Jr (knee) out
Tyus Jones (knee) out
Justise Winslow (hip) out
Jontay Porter (knee) out
Kemba Walker vs Ja Morant
Ja Morant is one of the leaders for rookie of the year. He is fun to watch and this should be a fun matchup. He is averaging 17.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 7.2 assists. He is shooting 48% from the field and 34.5% from beyond the arc. Kemba should be available to play his regular minutes and it will be a challenge to stay with the Grizzlies’ quick rookie. In the first game between these two teams, Morant had just 2 points and he will likely be looking to make up for that performance in this game.
Jaylen Brown vs Dillon Brooks
Brooks is averaging 15.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game. He is shooting 40.4% from the field and 35.8% from beyond the arc. Brown will need to stay with him both in the paint and on the perimeter as he is a threat from both. Hopefully Brown will continue to be able to shoot well as the Celtics will need his offense as well as his defense.
Daniel Theis vs Jonas Valanciunas
Theis will be tasked with keeping Valanciunas off the boards and off of the 3 point line. Valanciunas is averaging 15.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game. He is shooting 58.4% from the field and 34.1% from beyond the arc. If Theis’ foot keeps hiim out of this game, it will be up to Enes Kanter and Robert Williams to try to limit Valanciunas.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always key to getting a win. The Celtics had let their defense slip but they seem to be getting back to their defensive roots in their last 3 games. The Grizzlies are averaging 112.6 points per game and the Celtics are averaging 113.9 points per game. The Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 106.6 while the Grizzlies are 15th with a defensive rating of 109.7. The Celtics have to especially keep the Grizzlies out of the paint where they lead the league with 56.0 points in the paint. The Celtics must continue to make defense a priority if they want to keep winning.
Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and desire and the Celtics will need both to win the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are 7th with 46.5 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 8th with 46.0 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies are also 7th in 2nd chance points. The Celtics have to put more effort into crashing the boards than the Grizzlies do, because when they are aggressive on the boards, it usually translates to the other parts of the game.
Effort and Intensity - After several games with less than 100% effort, the Celtics finally began playing with effort and intensity in their last 3 wins. They have to give consistent effort every minute of every game. They need to make grit and heart part of their identity every time they take the court.
Move the Ball - The Celtics have to keep the ball moving. Over dribbling and playing hero ball won’t win them many games. The Celtics have looked good in their last 3 wins with the ball moving well. They Celtics have to move the ball and find the open man and get the best shot without turning it over. When the ball sticks, it does not usually lead to success.
Bench Play - The Grizzlies bring a few players off the bench who could give the Celtics problems. Grayson Allen has set or matched his season high in scoring in 4 out of their 6 games in the bubble. He is tied for 4th in the league in 3 pointers made since the restart. He is shooting 46.8% from the field and 41.5% from beyond the arc. Brandon Clarke is also playing well, averaging 12.1 points and 5.9 rebounds and shooting 62.5% from the field and 37.7% from beyond the arc. Gergui Dieng and Josh Jackson are also playing well for them off the bench. The Celtics reserves need to play well in this game, especially on the defensive end.
Underestimation - The biggest mistake the Celtics can make is to underestimate an opponent. The Grizzlies are below .500 but they are playing for their playoff lives. it would be a big mistake for the Celtics to underestimate them. The Grizzlies are 4th in fast break points and they are 6th in pace (103.32) and will run the Celtics off the court if they don’t come out ready for them.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Sometimes the game is all about the refs and other times you hardly notice them. Sometimes they call every little ticky tack foul and other times they let them play. No matter how the refs call the game, the Celtics must adjust to it and not allow bad calls or missed calls to mess with their focus. Hopefully they will call it fairly and let both teams play.