The Celtics host one of the hottest teams in the league as the Memphis Grizzlies make their only visit to the TD Garden this season. This is the first meeting between these two teams and their second and final meeting will be in the regular season finale on April 10. These two teams split the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on their home court. The Celtics are 29-19 overall all time and they are 14-9 in games played in Boston. The Celtics have won 7 straight home games against the Grizzlies.
The Celtics remain in 6th place in the East. They won their last game and are 8-2 in their last 10 games and have won 12 of their last 14 games. They are 21-11 at home and they are 10-11 against Western Conference teams. The Celtics are now in a virtual tie with 5th place Cleveland but are 3/10 of a percent behind them so remain 6th. Should they finish tied, the Celtics own the tie breaker. The Celtics are 1.5 games behind 4th place Milwaukee and 2.5 games behind 3rd place Philadelphia. They are 4.5 games out of first place. Every game is very important from here on out since the standings are so tight in the East.
The Grizzlies are 3rd in the West and also 3rd in the league. They won their last 2 games and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 19-15 on the road and they are 14-7 against Eastern Conference teams. They are 1/2 game behind the Golden State Warriors, who are 2nd in the league and they are 7 games out of first place. They are 3.5 games ahead of 4th place Utah. They are 1.5 games ahead of the Heat, who are tops in the East.
Boston is playing in the 2nd of 3 straight home games. They had a come back win over the Hawks in the first game of the home stand on Tuesday and will close out the home stand on Sunday against Brooklyn, after 2 days off. They will then play one road game at Charlotte before coming back home to face Detroit and Dallas for the final time this season. After that, they will head out on a 4 game road trip.
Memphis is coming off a home win over the Spurs on Monday. After this game in Boston the Grizzlies will then return home for a game against the Magic. They then hit the road again for a game at Houston. They then head home once again for two home games before heading out on a 4 game road trip. The Grizzlies were 41-19 before the All Star game, in spite of having the third hardest schedule.
The Grizzlies have been one of the hottest teams in the league. While the Celtics have led the league in defense, the Grizzlies have led in offense and are in the top 10 in both offense and defense. In the month of February, Memphis led the league in points (123.5), rebounds (49.3), points in the paint (61.0), and second chance points (20.5). And, Ja Morant has been one of the hottest players in recent games, scoring 46 on Saturday vs Chicago and 52 on Monday vs the Spurs.
The Celtics will be without Jaylen Brown who left Tuesday’s game against the Hawks in the second quarter with a sprained ankle. Brown will certainly be missed in this game on both ends of the court. I’m guessing that Aaron Nesmith will get the start so that the bench unit will have more continuity. But, Ime may very well start Derrick White, who played very well on Tuesday against the Spurs. For the Grizzlies, Dillon Brooks (ankle) and John Konchar (ankle) are both out and Yves Pons (thigh) is a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (ankle) out
Probable Grizzlies Starters
Xavier Tillman, Sr.
Dillon Brooks (ankle) out
John Konchar (ankle) out
Yves Pons (thigh) questionable
Marcus Smart vs Ja Morant
Morant has been on a tear in recent games, scoring 46 and 52 in his last two games. He is averaging 26.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He is shooting 49.8% from the field and 34.4% from beyond the arc. The Celtics will need to especially find a way to slow Morant down if they hope to get a win in this game.
Aaron Nesmith vs Desmond Bane
Bane is averaging 17.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 45.0% from the field and 40.8% from beyond the arc. I’m guessing that Nesmith will start in place of Jaylen Brown, but it could very well be Derrick White getting the start here. Either way. the Celtics need to defend Bane well, especially on the perimeter.
Al Horford vs Jaren Jackson, Jr.
Jackson is averaging 16.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 2.2 blocks per game. He is shooting 41.5% from the field and 31.6% from beyond the arc. The Celtics will need to slow him down on offense and be aware of his defense as he blocks over 2 shots per game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have established an identity as a tough defensive team. They are 2nd in the league with a defensive rating of 105.3. The Grizzlies are a good defensive team as well with a defensive rating of 108.6 (8th). The Celtics have let their defense slip in some of their recent games. They allowed the Pacers to score 128 points and shoot 51.3% from beyond the arc. In the first half of Tuesday’s game, they allowed Atlanta to score 65 points, but in the second half, they found their defensive identity and allowed just 33 points the rest of the way. The Celtics must play lock down defense for 48 minutes against the Grizzlies if they have any hope of winning. The Grizzlies are 17th with just 11 made 3’s per game. They are 1st with 57.4 points in the paint. The Celtics need to defend the perimeter so they don’t have another situation like the Pacers game. But, they especially need to defend the paint where the Grizzlies are especially dangerous.
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 3rd in the league, grabbing 46.4 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies are 1st, with 49.3 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies are also 1st with 18.2 second chance points per game. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and the Celtics need to put out more effort and hustle than the Grizzlies in order to beat them to rebounds.
Let’s Be Physical - The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team. They have to go after every loose ball, every rebound and play harder than the Grizzlies on every possession. They have to be more aggressive on defense, and on getting to the basket. They have to be the team that plays harder and that wants the game more. If the Celtics are the more aggressive team, they will likely get the benefit of the calls and they will control the pace of the game.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics can’t afford to get down to the Grizzlies like they did to the Hawks. They need to come out playing hard on both ends of the court right from the opening tip and play hard for all 48 minutes up until the final buzzer. The Grizzlies are a good defensive team and so it won’t be as easy to score against them and to catch up if they allow themselves to get behind. They have to be the team that plays harder for all 48 minutes of the game.
Stay Focused - The Celtics need to stay focused on making the right plays. They have to make the extra pass and find the best shots and not settle for quick contested shots. They need to focus on hitting their shots and if they aren’t falling, they need to get to the basket where they can get a better shot or draw a foul. They also have to focus on making good passes and being careful when dribbling and handling the ball so they don’t make careless turnovers. They can’t afford to lose focus for even a short time against a tough team like the Grizzlies.
Next Man Up - The Celtics will be without Jaylen Brown and that will present challenges on both ends of the court. The Celtics need their other players, both starters and reserves, to pick up the slack and fill in the void left by Jaylen’s absence. Will Nesmith step up in this game and have a break out game? Will Derrick White have another big game? Every Celtic has to step up if they hope to get a win in this game.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Some officials call the game tight and call every little bit of contact. Others let them play and allow both teams to be physical. Some refs call it one sided for one team while others call it even. The Celtics have to concentrate on playing their game and not allow bad calls and no calls to take away from their focus on playing.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are home dogs (+3) heading into tonight. That reflects Jaylen Brown’s absence with a sprained right ankle and the Grizzlies as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, coming in winners of 11 of the their last 14 games. Memphis is arriving at TD Garden on three days rest and hoping that a few off nights hasn’t cooled off a red-hot Ja Morant.
As previously noted, the outcome of the game could very well be determined by the point guard matchup. Morant is having an 1st Team All-NBA level season and Smart could make a return to the All-Defensive this year, too. This season, Smart has found success against some of the best young guards in the league.
Per NBA Stats tracking data, he’s held Trae Young to 15 points over four games on 5-for-12 shooting and Darius Garland to 13 points over three games on 4-for-12 shooting in head-to-head matchups. Morant is a far different monster, but if Smart along with Robert Williams patrolling the paint can contain him, the Celtics have a chance at the upset in front of a home crowd.
Boston would also benefit from getting off to a good start, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Against the Hawks on Tuesday, they allowed ten free throw attempts just in the first quarter alone. In Indianapolis over the weekend, the Pacers hit 12-of-20 from behind the arc in the first half. After crushing teams early in January and February, they’ve been slow out of the gates of late and against a powerhouse team like the Grizzlies, you don’t want to dig too deep of a hole.
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