Game Preview: Grizzlies at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – It’s a new year, and the Boston Celtics (14-16) are hoping that will lead to new results.

The Celtics finished 2012 on a three-game losing streak at the hands of three California teams. They will attempt to end that slump at 7:30 p.m. tonight when they host the visiting Memphis Grizzlies (19-9) in TD Garden.

Aside from the fact that we’re now in a new year, Boston has a couple of important factors on its side heading into tonight’s contest. First of all, the C’s are back in the Garden for the first time in exactly two weeks. They play much better in front of the home crowd and own a 9-5 record at home this season. The most important boost tonight, however, is the impending return of Avery Bradley.

Bradley, who underwent double-shoulder surgery this past offseason, is slated to play in his first game of the season tonight. He has not participated in an NBA game since Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Speaking before Tuesday’s practice, Bradley said, “I’m very excited. My teammates are excited… I’m pretty sure the fans are excited.”

All of that excitement is for good reason. Bradley is a game-changer on defense, much the way Tony Allen is for Memphis, and he was one of the biggest reasons why last season’s version of the Celtics turned things around following a 15-17 start. His defensive energy and offensive efficiency helped propel the C’s in the right direction and momentum continued to build through Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Randolph, KG

Kevin Garnett and the Celtics big men will have their hands full with Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies big men.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

Boston can only hope that Bradley’s return can deliver a similar long-term result this season as well. In the short-term, however, the C’s need to worry about tonight’s impressive opponent.

The Grizzlies have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and are the epitome of a true team. They have some great players, but there is no superstar in their locker room. In fact, no Grizzlies player averages more than 18.0 points per game. There are, however, four Grizzlies players averaging at least 13.2 PPG. Rudy Gay is Memphis’ top scorer with 18.0 points a night.

With no superstar on the roster, Memphis has used two things to become great: defense and rebounding. They are tops in the league in opponent scoring by allowing just 90.0 PPG and their average rebounding differential of plus-3.8 is the sixth-best mark in the league. Allen, a former Celtic, is the defensive star on the perimeter while Zach Randolph, who ranks second in the league in rebounding with 12.5 boards a night, helps to dominate the glass.

Those numbers tell us why this contest is a great challenge for the Celtics to face at the start of the new year. This one won’t be easy, but the hope is that a couple of key factors on their side will help the C’s to begin 2013 on a high note.

Doc’s Rotation

For the first time this season, we’ll be able to get a better sense of what Doc Rivers’ true rotation will look like. With Bradley in the fold, Rivers will be able to juggle his guard combinations the way he had intended to when this team was assembled during the summer.

One thing to expect is to see Rajon Rondo’s court time with Courtney Lee to drop significantly. It’s likely that Rivers will want Rondo to be on the floor with Bradley and Terry, who are both much more useful while playing off of the ball.

Active Big Men

Really good big men are keys to having a great defense and great rebounding. There’s a reason why the Grizzlies are superb at both.

Memphis could have the top overall starting frontcourt in the league with Randolph and Marc Gasol manning the paint. Both of those players are All-Star caliber big men and both are incredibly active around the bucket. They combine to grab an average of 20 rebounds a night and Gasol has a solid average of 1.75 blocks per game. Randolph and Gasol are also incredibly efficient on offense. Both players can score off of post ups and via jump shots, and both are shooting just less than 50 percent from the field.

Boston’s bigs will have their hands full tonight. Kevin Garnett, Jason Collins, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger will need to bring their A-game.

A Fresh Start

Tonight’s contest may not mark the beginning of a new season and the Celtics’ record won’t reset to 0-0 before tip-off, but the team can look at this as a fresh start. We’re in a new year and Boston will be playing with its full compliment of guards for the first time.

This is exactly what the Celtics need after a demoralizing trip out West. They’ve been around their families since New Year’s Eve, they’ll be playing in front of their fans and they finally have Bradley back in the lineup. In their minds, this should be a fresh start, and they need to capitalize on that with a big win over a great opponent.