C's Maul Grizzlies for Second Straight Blowout Win
BOSTON – A roaring Memphis Grizzlies offense bounded off to a 42-35 start inside TD Garden Wednesday night, but then it fell into a trap of epic proportions. The trap was a 23-0 Boston Celtics run late in the second quarter, which put the Grizzlies into hibernation mode for seven straight minutes and paved the way for a 119-95 win.
It marked the second straight blowout of a red-hot opponent for the C’s, having also taken down the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, 139-107 on Monday night, after losing six of its previous eight games.
The key to the two-game turnaround, according to Brad Stevens, has been all about his team’s tenacity on the defensive end.
“We’ve pressured the ball better the past couple of games,” the coach said after Wednesday night’s win. “I do think we looked a little fresher. I think that is part of it. I think that we were not allowing the ball to get to the paint before you feel pressure. If that happens with us, if they catch it on the block without any resistance, if they catch it inside or at the 3-point line without resistance, then we’re in trouble. We’re not going to be able to impact the ball or impact them at the rim the way we want to. Our best rim defense is keeping the ball away from it. We have to be able to push things out with our pressure.”
More pressure leads to more deflections and steals. And more deflections and steals lead to more transition opportunities, which is just what the speedy and versatile Celtics offense needs in order to be successful.
“I think when we’re able to get stops and we can run in transition, that’s when we’re really, really lethal because we have so many guys that can bring it up,” said Gordon Hayward, who logged 12 points, four assists and three rebounds. “You just get it and go and you don’t have to wait for one guy to bring it up. And I think when we were able to be as active as we’ve been defensively, and get deflections where we don’t have to keep walking the ball up the court through a set defense, that’s when we’re pretty good.”
The Celtics hadn’t been getting as many transition opportunities during their losing skid. But they studied hard this past weekend and it has clearly paid off, as they have now dismantled two of the league's top five January offenses over a span of three nights.
“Watching film, I think, has definitely helped us,” said Kemba Walker, who notched eight points, four assists, two steals and two blocks. “Some of the losses we had definitely helped (motivate) us, but for the most part, it’s been film – realizing where teams are operating, how teams are beating us for the most part when we’re not playing well. And when we are playing well, we are feisty and scrambling and just playing for each other. So we’re just kind of realizing that.”
One of Boston’s main focal points for Wednesday night’s game was figuring out how to stop lead Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant, who entered the contest leading all first-year players in points (17.9) and assists (7.0) per game. The Celtics limited him to his lowest-scoring output of the season, as he tallied just two points to go along with five assists during 24 minutes of action.
“We were really focused on what he’s capable of,” Stevens said of defending Morant. “(Daniel)Theis in pick-and-roll did a good job as he was coming downhill … Ja is a heck of a talent and I thought we guarded him hard.”
One of the players who was guarding Morant was Marcus Smart, who was “very impressed” with the way in which he and his team defended as a whole.
“Obviously there’s a lot of things we can clean up,” he said after logging 12 points, six rebounds, six assists, and a plus-35 rating during 29 minutes of action. “Each game we try to get as better as we can. But these last couple of games for us, we've really been focusing on ourselves and on the defensive end and we’ve been doing a good job. I’m proud of the guys. Every night we’re coming out trying to give the best effort that we and that’s all we can ask for.”
The Celtics will need to continue giving their best effort over the next several days, as they hit the road for a three-game road trip down south, where they’ll take on Orlando, New Orleans and a Miami Heat team that is 20-1 on its home court.
“It’s going to take everybody being on the same page,” Hayward said of maintaining such effort. “Everybody out there can guard multiple positions, that’s what makes us so hard, but if one guy is off not doing his job, or if one guy is slacking, or one guy is not going as hard, it affects the whole group. For us, it’s all about staying focused and on the same page.”