The Celtics visit the Memphis Grizzlies for the second and final meeting between them this season. The Celtics beat the Grizzlies 126-107 in Boston on December 30. Both teams were short handed in that game with the Celtics missing 4 players including Kemba Walker and the Grizzlies missing 5 players including Ja Morant.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games after beating the Magic at home on Sunday. This is the Grizzlies’ 14th game against a team playing in game 2 of back to back games. That is the most of any team in the league. They are 6-7 so far in the first 13 games. The Celtics are 3-5 on the second night of back to back games and 1-1 when the games are home/road.
The Celtics are 31-18 overall against the Grizzlies and have won 10 straight against them. Every day shifts the standings as 2.5 games separate 4th place from 10th place. The Celtics are now 6th, 8.5 games behind 1st place Philadelphia. They are half a game behind 5th place Miami and half a game ahead of both New York (7th) and Charlotte (8th). They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and 8-14 on the road. They are 6-9 vs Western teams.
The Grizzlies are 10th in the West, 1 game behind 9th place Golden State and 1.5 games behind 8th place Dallas. If the season were to end today, both the Celtics and Grizzlies would both have to win in the play in tournament to make the playoffs. The Grizzlies are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are 10-13 at home. They are 10-6 vs Eastern teams.
Kemba Walker will likely miss this game as he has other back to back games this season. I’m guessing that Jeff Teague will get the start in his place. Romeo Langford and Tristan Thompson will both likely be out due to health and safety protocols. For the Grizzlies, only Jaren Jackson, Jr (knee) is listed as out. The Grizzlies are 5-6 with their current starting lineup.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jeff Teague
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (covid) out
Kemba Walker (rest) out
Tristan Thompson (covid) out
Probable Grizzlies Starters
PG: Ja Morant
SG: Grayson Allen
SF: Dillon Brooks
PF: Kyle Anderson
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Xavier Tillman, Sr
Jaren Jackson, Jr (knee) out
Marcus Smart vs Ja Morant
Morant missed the first game between these teams and could make a big difference in this one. He is averaging 19.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. He is shooting 45% from the field and just 23% on 3’s after shooting 34% on 3’s last season. I’m guessing that Smart will be tasked with defending him in this game.
Daniel Theis vs Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas is aveaging 15.8 points, 12.0 rebounds (3rd in the league) and 1.8 assists per game. He shoots 56% from the field and 31% frm beyond the arc. If Thompson is able to play, he may get the start as he would match up better with Valanciunas, especially on the boards.
Jaylen Brown vs Dillon Brooks
Brooks is averaging 15.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. He is shooting 39% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc. Jaylen had 42 points in the first game vs the Grizzlies and is coming off a big game vs the Magic. Hopefully he can continue that strong play in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. I’m not sure why the Celtics’ defense has dropped off so much since last season’s top 4 rating, but it is something they must fix if they hope to be contenders. Celtics are currently 21st in the league with a defensive rating of 112.3. The Grizzlies are 9th with a defensive rating of 109.4. If the Celtics hope to win this game, they must get back to playing tough team and individual defense.
Rebound - The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball and to get the ball, they have to grab rebounds. The Celtics are grabbing just 43.9 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies are averaging 45.1 rebounds per game. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics have got to put out extra effort on the boards.
Move the Ball - The Celtics at times move the ball very well and find the open man but then lapse into old habits and play iso ball and hero ball. When the Celtics play as a team and move the ball, they are tough to beat but when they go away from it, they usually struggle. On Sunday, they moved the ball better than they had in a long time. Each player has to resist the urge to try to do too much and to consistently play team ball.
Effort and Focus - The Celtics had a team only meeting after their lost to the Kings on Friday. Hopefully they discussed the need to be more focused and play with more effort consistently. Both are needed if they want to make a run in the final part of their season and avoid having to win in a play in tournament to make the playoffs.
On the Road and Fatigue - The Celtics are on the road where they haven’t played very well this season. They are just 8-14 on the road and have to find a way to be more focused on playing the right way when they are away from home, especially with fans now being allowed at many arenas. The Celtics are also playing on back to back nights and fatigue may become a factor down the stretch.
Officiating - Officiating is always an X-Factor. Some crews call it tight and some let them play. Some crews will favor the home team and some won’t. The Celtics have to adjust to the way the game is being called and not allow bad calls and no calls to affect their focus.