Marcus Smart did not take the court in Sunday night’s matchup between the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies, as he continues to sit out with a finger injury, but he nonetheless was the center of attention in his return to his home court of nine seasons. Sitting on the sideline at TD Garden for the first time since being traded to Memphis as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade, Smart was honored on the jumbotron and named the night’s “Hero Among Us” as the Boston crowd celebrated his contributions on and off the court.
A basketball game was played, as well, after a fashion. The Grizzlies were missing far more players than just Smart this evening, sporting an injury list that consisted of a whopping 13 players, including stars Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. For their part, the Celtics lacked the services of Jaylen Brown, but returned their full frontcourt depth chart on a night where they would be heavily favored. This time, the Celtics avoided the upset loss, building a large lead before halftime and holding onto it for the 131-91 win.
Jayson Tatum led the way with 34 points, and Porzingis stepped into Brown’s typical co-star role with 26 of his own. The Grizzlies, remarkably, ran their offense through 19-year-old rookie GG Jackson, who put up a whopping 24 shots and came away with 18 points. Memphis deserves credit for playing with effort despite having just eight active players, but they were significantly outclassed in this game.
To Memphis’ credit, they played like a team that did not want to be viewed as a pushover. They didn’t shoot particularly well to open the game, but a strong effort on the offensive glass — particular four early offensive rebounds from Tosan Evbuomwan — gave them a lot of second-chance opportunities. It’s the right script for a shorthanded, underdog team to steal a win — playing hard and fearlessly. The Celtics took a nine-point advantage into the second quarter, 29-20, but Memphis made it clear they were not about to roll over.
Rebounding woes continued to plague the Celtics in the second, giving the Grizzlies valuable opportunities to put points on the board. Evbuomwan continued to thrive, pushing his offensive rebound total to six by halftime, in just his second NBA appearance. Eventually, though, the sheer gap in talent became apparently. Memphis’ gritty effort began to slow, and the Celtics strung together some quick scoring possessions to create some distance. One 41-point quarter later, they led by a more appropriate 20 points as the teams hit the locker rooms for halftime, 70-50.
As play resumed after the break, the Boston offense really started to cook. Apart from one relatively slapstick sequence from Porzingis that resulted in a missed dunk and a turnover, the Celtics played virtually flawless basketball. Unsurprisingly, Tatum was the tip of the spear. He was simply unstoppable, nailing threes right in the face of the Memphis defense without even touching iron. Cracking the 30-point threshold late in the third with his sixth three of the night, he added eight rebounds and seven assists, and might have had an opportunity for a triple-double if he finished the game. That looked unlikely, however, as the Celtics led by 23 entering the fourth quarter, 99-76.
The Celtics did not exactly tear out of the gate to start the fourth quarter, but with a substantial lead and the Memphis offense fading, the final frame was all but a formality. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla went to his bench after just a few minutes, with the Celtics ahead by 23. This gave the TD Garden crowd something else to cheer about, as well-liked rookie Jordan Walsh made his third NBA appearance and quickly scored the first points of his NBA career on an exciting fast break dunk with eight minutes remaining in regulation. On a night that celebrated a legend of the Celtics’ past, it provided a nice bit of symmetry for a player they hope will be a part of their future.
JORDAN WALSH FIRST CAREER BUCKET pic.twitter.com/IuHOELFdqz— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 5, 2024
Next up, the Celtics will enjoy a couple days off before hosting the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden, this Wednesday at 7:30 PM on NBC Sports Boston.