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The Celtics Avoided Disaster With An Impressive 19 Point Comeback In Memphis

Boston Celtics v Memphis Grizzlies

They say when you play the Grizzlies you’re in for a tough, grind it out rock right. They’re a team that if they played in the East would probably be a top 5 seed given how they defend, and they do have their fair share of talent. They want to slow you down, beat you up, and use the smart play from their two stars in Gasol and Conley to ultimately wear you down. Seeing as how this was the first matchup for the Celts against this team, I was interested to see how two defensive minded and offensively challenged teams might look against each other. The Grizzlies are one of those teams where if you win you feel great because it’s not easy to beat this team, and if you lose to them you’re mad because they score like 70 points a night. So as you can imagine seeing this Celtics team get down 19 points on the road was a bit problematic. It was once again clear early that their lack of rim/paint protection was killing them, as the Grizzlies lived in the paint in the first half and basically did whatever they wanted. Before you know it the Celts found themselves in a pickle, down a shit ton on the road against a team that is extremely hard to score on. The Grizzlies were 7-3 in 10+ point games heading into last night, and then you saw Forsberg tweet this out

and I can understand your frustration. We haven’t really seen these Celtics come back and actually scratch and claw their way to wins when they’ve gotten down big this season. It sure did look like this was heading towards yet another loss where this team looks lifeless and simply doesn’t get it. We’ve certainly had our fair share of those so far, but whatever Brad and the guys said at halftime it clearly worked. Their second half was incredible on both ends, they looked like the team we expected, and next thing you new disaster was averted. Brad turned to his veterans to get him out of this hole and they responded, which given their loss already on this trip in HOU was very much needed with a much improved Spurs team on deck.

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but they pulled it out. They finally showed some goddamn mental toughness against a quality opponent on the road, and I’ll take that. Granted they still need to work on not getting down by 19 points to a team that can’t score, but let’s take things on step at a time.

The Good

– There were a few worthy candidates for our top spot today, but I still don’t see how you can look anywhere else other than Kyrie Irving. He’s playing the best basketball of his career on both ends, and that’s not hyperbole. Career highs in rebounds, assists, steals, he’s playing the best defense of his career outside of the 2016 Finals, and his leadership and accountability has been off the charts. He put up another 26/13 last night, which was his 3rd 20/10 performance in his last 6 games.

He had a pretty outrageous December, averaging 25/5.3/7.2 on 49/44% splits with 2.9 3PM, and I honestly can’t find too many flaws in his play recently. He did have a bit of a TO issue lat night with 4, but other than that not only is he that reliable #1 option this team needs, but he’s playing unselfish basketball, looking for teammates to keep them engaged, and then when it’s winning time he’s taking over. His 10/5 in the fourth was huge, but honestly it’s his defense that continues to impress me.

He spend the majority of his night on Garrett Temple, matching up against him on 28 possessions and he did not surrender a single point. Mike Conley was next at 13 possessions, he had 2 points. On the night opponents shot just 3-10 against Kyrie and I cannot stress enough how important it is for Kyrie to defend like this. That was always his weakness, that he wasn’t always an engaged defender, well you look at him this season and I can’t find too many examples of him not bringing it on the defensive end. It’s been a complete 180 for him, and that’s exactly what this group needs.

– Not so sound like a broken record, but where on earth would this team be without Marcus Morris

Another 22/4 on 7-13 shooting, he continues to be one of the most consistent players on this entire roster. How many times did we see him turn down what would have been a bad contested three/long two, only to put it on the floor and attack the rim? Given the Celts were trying to chip away at this lead the whole night, it’s those plays that stand out to me. Last year Mook probably tries to make the home run play and make those contested threes. Last night, and you heard Brad talk about this, they just hit singles and chipped away. This change in approach from Morris is a huge factor in that. Not having to worry about his shot selection is crazy, but a welcomed addition. I’m at the point now where I am legit shocked when he misses, and that’s still a weird feeling for me even though we’re 35 games in.

He also brought it on the defense end with the 2nd lowest Drtg on the team at 103, and just like Kyrie, when things turned to the fourth and the Celtics had to be perfect, he threw up 9 points on 3-4 shooting in his 10:32 fourth quarter minutes. Again, he won’t be an All Star or anything like that, but he’s certainly in the conversation of team MVP after Kyrie. What a season Mook is having.

– I hear a lot about how given a player’s contract there is a certain amount of expectations. In his first few seasons in Boston, people loved to talk about how Horford wasn’t worth his contract. They’re incorrect, but this year I think we can all agree Al’s looked a little off. I’m sure some of that has to do with his knee issues, but for whatever reason his defense had taken a step back and his jumper, specifically his three point shot has struggled. So to see him come out last night and drop 18/6/3 and hit perhaps the two biggest shots of the night was great

His 5-7 from deep performance were the most he’s made in a game all season, and since his return four games ago we’re seeing Al shoot 50/46%, and his shot has looked so much better over these last two games. Defensively, things looked much more like what we’re used to, he held Gasol to just 7 points on 33 possessions and forced 3 TOs, and just like Kyrie/Mook Horford was at his best in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. They needed Good Al to show up last night, and he answered that call.

– So let’s talk about the offense. We know the Grizzlies have one of the best defenses in the entire league, and after a slow start the Celtics still finished with 112 points on 50/44% splits with 16 3PM. They had 29 assists on 40 FGM and I don’t find this to be an accident. We know that when this team moves the ball and gets multiple people involved that their offense looks a million times better. Yeah the second quarter was horrific, but outside of that the Celts dropped 29, 32, and 33 points. You do that on the road against a quality defensive team like the Grizzlies, that’s somewhat impressive.

– Yesterday I tweeted out a question. That given his 20-24 minutes a night, what did you need to see from Hayward from a production standpoint that would make you feel like he’s getting closer to the player we need him to be. There were a lot of good answers, and for me it’s a combination of the eye test, but then something around like 12/4/4 while being aggressive looking for his shot. Sort of like what we got last night

Honestly this was Hayward’s first good game since his MIN outburst, and it came at a good time. He led the second unit in FGA with 11, was a +8 in his 26 minutes and just by the eye test he looked better. The transition dunk was nice, but I didn’t get the sense that he was hesitant, which at times can be a problem for him. Defensively, no Grizzlies player had more than 5 points against Hayward and this was a step in the right direction. He’s not back, don’t get ahead of yourself, but this was a relief to see him finally play well.

– You wanted a defensive battle? The Celtics gave you a defensive battle (in the second half)

I can’t give enough credit to Marcus Smart, who drew the Conley assignment and certainly made him work for his points. Sure he finished with 26, but only 10 of that came against Smart who had him for 26 possessions and held him to 5-11 shooting. It was Smart who brought the energy that helped spark this comeback, and overall it was a very Smart like performance. He finished with just 7 points on 3-7 shooting, but he had 4 huge steals and just 1 TO in his 28 minutes. You know he’ll never quit and the Celts don’t win this game without him.

– It was a weird night for Jayson Tatum. He got off to a great start offensively in the first quarter, but then they sort of went away from him. Well instead of sulking and pouting about it, he did everything else. He led the team with 8 rebounds, had 5 assists, 4 steals and 1 block. He did the best job on Kyle Anderson, holding him to just 4 points and 2 TOs on 33 possessions, so even though he wasn’t getting his shots, and took just 1 FGA in the second half, Tatum was still extremely engaged.

– OK, I waited long enough right? YABBBBUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

Look he played because the entire Celtics frontcourt is hurt, but you’re lying to yourself if you think Yabu didn’t change this game with his energy, defense, everything. That’s not me being a homer either, you heard Brad say it and it’s true. Yabu led the team with a Drtg of 74.2, He had the best Net Rating at +32.1, and his +11 on the night was the highest by anyone not named Kyrie Irving. He rebounded, he blocked shots, he made a three, he played the most he has in basically his career, and he was key in this comeback. Great night for Team Yabu that’s for damn sure.

The Bad

– OK, of course any time you get down 19 on the road it can’t be all good, so let’s start with their biggest problem. Points in the paint. The Celts for destroyed here to the tune of 52-36, and honestly they had no answer for MEM down low. I think they started off something crazy like 12-13 in the paint to start this game, and it was a huge reason why despite a strong first quarter the Celtics weren’t able to pull away. Gasol, Kyle Anderson, Wayne Selden, it didn’t matter who you were, the Celts were going to let you score in the paint. For a team that prides itself on defense, that was a little frustrating.

– I wouldn’t say he was terrible, but I wouldn’t say Jaylen was all that good either. He made all 3 of his FGA which was nice, but he did also have 3 TOs. I would say he was “fine”, but at this point “fine” still doesn’t cut it. He played just 19 minutes and was on the floor for 7 minutes in the fourth so that shows me that Brad trusted him and honestly he did his job during that stretch. I would have just liked to see him be more aggressive considering it looked like offensively he was playing well. He wasn’t awful, but I would certainly say there is still room for improvement with Jaylen.

– You could make the case that the Celts were a bit lucky, getting down by so much and then also turning it over 17 times. It’s just not like them to turn the ball over this much, and a few times it was Kyrie trying to force passes in traffic, but other times it was just sloppy play. You do shit like this against a team that can actually score, you won’t be coming back from 19 points.

– Just 18 FTA is still way too low. They made 16 of them which is great, but for a team that’s like 29th in FTA, I still need to see this team attack more and not be afraid of contact. Tatum didn’t take a single FT, Hayward took just 1 FTA, I need more from both of them.

The Ugly

– Where else could we put that second quarter? My word was that pathetic. You play great in the first 12 minutes and then poof, just like that it all gone. Brad’s rotations with this second unit are still a bit of a problem, he has to figure out how to stagger things better because that group is not getting it done right now. They shot just 35/37%, had 5 TOs and gave up 38 points with MEM shooting 64/50%. That is inexcusable. I would go as far as saying that was one of the worst quarters the Celtics have played all season, and to see a team like MEM work you like that was tough to stomach.

Even once the starters played, they were equally as bad. Tatum was -13 in that quarter, Kyrie -13, Mook -13, it just makes no sense. The Celtics as a team rank 26th in second quarter points and 28th in 2nd quarter FG%. It’s their achilles heel that has plagued them all season. For a team that was supposed to have awesome depth, why is it that once their reserves come in everything goes to shit? So weird.

– How badly do they miss a center? Well the Grizzlies had 17 second chance points on only 8 offensive rebounds, so basically every time they got an OREB they scored. Now that Robert Williams has a groin issue there’s really no help in sight, which means we need to be giving Yabu more minutes because he’s certainly willing to throw his wagon around.

– Still hate Terry’s shot selection, that hasn’t gotten better at all. They need to find a way to get him easier looks, because once again the majority of his FGA were threes. He took 7 on the night and 4 of them were from behind the arc.

 


So look, getting down by 19 points on the road, that’s bad. Showing some fucking balls and working your way out of it and then winning by 9? That’s much better. We’re still working on the whole consistency thing, but at least it was good to see the Celtics show some fight. There’s a long way to go until this team is playing at it’s potential, but this was a very much needed win after dropping the road opener in HOU. Finish this trip 2-1 and start to build some momentum for 2019. Please.