Watch It! - Grizzlies at Celtics
Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
No Gasol, No Problem?
Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies’ All-Star center, will miss tonight’s game with a sprained left MCL in his knee. That’s a huge missing piece for Memphis, but Brad Stevens doesn’t think it changes the way the Grizzlies play.
“Obviously, without Gasol, they change a little bit but they don’t change a lot,” Stevens said on Tuesday. “(Kosta) Koufos is a guy that started for a team that won close to 60 games, may have won 60 games last year.”
Stevens is right on with that comment. Koufos started 81 games for the 57-win Nuggets last season. He finished the season with averages of 8.0 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. He’s coming off of an eight-point, 13-rebound performance in his first start of the season.
Boston recognizes that Memphis takes a hit without Gasol, but that doesn’t mean the Grizzlies frontline won’t make a serious impact on tonight’s game.
Each of these teams have a defensive specialist on the perimeter. For Boston, it’s Avery Bradley. For Memphis, it’s Tony Allen.
Bradley, who was an NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection last season, is likely to get the call to defend Mike Conley tonight. Conley is Memphis’ leading scorer (18.8 PPG) and assist man (5.6 APG). His 15 points and eight assists against Boston on Nov. 4 both led the Grizzlies. Boston will need Bradley to display his impact defense against Conley tonight.
The same can be said for the Grizzlies and their defensive ace, Allen. He’s likely to get the call to defend both Jordan Crawford and Jeff Green. The majority of those minutes should be spent on Crawford, as Memphis has Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter to check Green. Crawford is coming off of back-to-back impressive performances, as he notched a double-double (12 points, 10 assists) Saturday night in Atlanta, then dropped in a team-best 21 points Monday night in Charlotte. Slowing him down will be one of Memphis’ top priorities.
A Very Different Celtics Team
Crawford’s insertion to the starting lineup is just one of the reasons why this Celtics team is very different than the one that Memphis saw on Nov. 4. Crawford did not start that contest, and neither did Jared Sullinger.
Crawford and Sullinger could easily be considered Boston’s most consistent players this season. Crawford has been fantastic all season long, and Sullinger is the team’s leading rebounder while dropping in 12.1 PPG.
Memphis surely realizes that this crew is different than the one it saw earlier this month. The tandem of Crawford and Sullinger has helped to change the tenor of Boston’s season.
Defend the Paint
Memphis enters tonight’s game ranked seventh in the league in points in the paint with an average of 44.1 per game. That has a lot to do with Gasol, but it has even more to do with Zach Randolph.
Randolph does settle for jumpers every now and then. However, he is a great post presence and scores 9.4 of his 16.2 PPG in the paint, according to NBA.com/stats.
This is a challenge that Boston is well-prepared for. The Celtics faced the lines of Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard over their past five games. The team’s big men, particularly Sullinger, have handled those challenges well.
“He does a good job of using his strength to defend one-on-one on the post, there’s no question about that,” Stevens said of Sullinger.
Boston’s coach hopes that his young big man and his frontcourt mates can continue their strong defense down low tonight against Memphis.
The Backup Point Guards
The Celtics and Grizzlies have received legitimate boosts from their backup point guards this season. In fact, Boston watched first-hand as Memphis got its largest boost from Jerryd Bayless this season.
Bayless scored all 15 of his points during the fourth quarter of these two teams’ first meeting of the season. He shot 6-for-7 from the field while leading the Grizzlies to a fourth-quarter comeback.
Boston doesn’t want to see Bayless do that again, but it wouldn’t mind seeing Phil Pressey put forth a similar performance. Pressey has been slotted in as the team’s backup point guard and he’s coming off of an eight-assist performance Monday night. He isn’t going to shoot the lights out, but he sure can provide a massive spark for the team with his energy and passing off the bench.