It was another tough loss for the Celtics as they fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime Monday night. The Celtics rallied back in the fourth quarter, but the overtime period was too much after an exhausting and physical game. The biggest takeaway and reason for the loss was Boston’s inability to keep Memphis out of the paint.
The Celtics interior defense was absolutely dreadful. Boston gave up 80 points in the paint and it felt like every single possession Memphis just kept attacking the paint without any response. It was either a drive into the basket from a wing or an easy pass inside for a Jonas Valanciunas basket. Memphis just continued to go back to what was working for them.
“Valanciunas just destroyed us when he got the ball down low, especially off those offensive rebounds. It came in a string that even though he ended the game with 16 points it felt a lot bigger than that, Brad Stevens said. “It felt like he was getting what he wanted to off the glass... You could feel those runs and it felt like there was nothing to do to stop it.”
The Celtics did not focus on limiting the entry pass at all which would have restricted these easy layups. Make them make the harder shots, and if they beat you there, so be it. With this result, it was more about the Grizzlies implementing their will on the Celtics without a response. Stevens later said, “there was a point in time in the second and third where we weren’t getting the stops seven out of eight possessions they are scoring. Even when they are not, they are right at the rim. It’s an issue. It’s been an issue all year.”
Valanciunas has been a force all season putting up 15.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. Against Daniel Theis and Robert Williams, the bigger Valanciunus really could impose himself wherever he wanted. He finished the game with 16 points and 19 rebounds. Each and every time, the bruising big man got deep enough in the paint and then got the entry pass for the layup.
For the Celtics, no one was helping once that entry pass was made. It is not always easy to deny the ball, but once he gets it down there, help should be on its way. Boston doesn’t typically double in the post, but Memphis loves to control their own tempo and get physical with Valanciunas, and the Celtics were not able to contain it.
The other way Memphis was able to get into the paint was off the drives from the wing. The Celtics could not contain the perimeter ballhandlers, and they were driving in with ease. This mainly was with their franchise cornerstone Ja Morant. Morant is ridiculously fast getting to the basket, and his style is to do everything he can to get there.
Sometimes Morant is able to just win the day with his quickness and athleticism, but the Celtics needed to do a little better about slowing his head of steam before reaching the paint. Teague did a solid job for parts of the first half, but then the talent took over during the second half and overtime. Morant started flying downhill and finishing at the rim.
This loss for the Celtics will hurt because it is against a team that they should beat. Eighty points in the paint should really never happen especially because the majority of those were even before halftime. The next two games are against Giannis Antetokounmpo, and everyone knows that he will be trying to finish around the rim. The Celtics will need to prepare and learn from their mistakes in this one to deny easy entry to the paint and make Milwaukee shoot outside shots and live with the result.