Celtics-Grizzlies Preview: C's hope to continue rolling in right direction

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Celtics-Grizzlies Preview: C's hope to continue rolling in right direction

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are back to playing well at both ends of the floor, coming out of the all-star break with back-to-back road wins.

The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, no longer a team trying to be the top squad in the West.

Instead, they’re more concerned with trying to land the top pick in June’s NBA draft.

You hear the calls from coaches and players all the time about how the focus has to be on playing teams and not their records.

That mantra will be put to the test tonight when the Celtics (42-19) host the struggling Grizzlies (18-40).

There’s no question the Celtics are playing better basketball now in comparison to what we saw prior to the all-star break when they lost three straight and four of five.

But before fans get too excited about the two games, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens offers up a sobering reminder that this Boston team is indeed a work in progress that despite their impressive record, has a lot of room for growth.

“We’re not in it for two games,” Stevens said. “We’re in it for the last 23 so we just have to keep adding to and building on.”

While there’s incentive to win every night, the Celtics should have even more motivation considering a victory could potentially put them back atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Boston (42-19) comes into tonight’s game trailing Toronto (41-17) by a half game with a Celtics win and a Raptors loss to Detroit putting the Celtics back atop the East.

Meanwhile, they face a Memphis team that’s no longer about that Grit-and-Grind brand of basketball that made them a playoff team each of the last seven seasons.

Today, they are in the infancy stages of rebuilding which gives you some sense as to why wins have been few and far between for them this season as they come into tonight's game having lost nine straight.

 And when it comes to road games against the East, Memphis’ struggles are just as pronounced with the Grizzlies losing all nine road games this season they have played against Eastern Conference teams.

Making matters worse for the Memphis is one of their top players Tyreke Evans who was expected to be shipped out prior to the NBA trade deadline, is still with the team and currently has a rib injury.

He is considered questionable for tonight’s game.

Memphis forward Chandler Parsons did not play at Miami on Saturday due to an illness, and he too is questionable for tonight’s game.

The one bright spot for Memphis' roster is the return of Marc Gasol tonight.

The Grizzlies center did not play (rest) on Saturday. However, he is expected to go tonight.

That’s not a good thing for Boston, all too familiar with how dominant the 7-foot big man can be.

When these two met on Dec. 16, Boston came away with a 102-93 win but not before Gasol dropped 30 points and 10 rebounds on them.

Regardless of what Memphis is doing or what the Celtics have done in the last two games, Boston’s focus has to remain on continued growth.

That’s why Kyrie Irving refuses to make a big fuss about the Celtics having won their first two games following the all-star break.

“It’s only two games,” Irving told NBC Sports Boston following the Celtics’ win at New York on Saturday. “But we understand that in order to really get detailed about how we want to accomplish our big-picture, whatever that may be, we have to find consistency every single game and carry-over.

Irving added, “that’s the biggest thing for a young and developing team like we have. And as one of the leaders on the team, it’s my job to demand that every single night.”


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.



Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Kyrie Irving underwent a left knee procedure on Saturday that will keep the five-time All-Star guard out for at least the start of the playoffs.

The Celtics indicated that Irving will be out for 3-6 weeks.

According to the Celtics, the procedure was to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed there as part of the surgical repair of the fractured patella injury Irving suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Removing the wire is expected to lessen the irritation it was causing in Irving’s left patellar tendon.

The fractured patella injury from in 2015 has fully healed and, according to the Celtics, Irving’s knee has been found to be “completely structurally sound.”

The timetable for Irving's return is roughly the same as that of Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who last week had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb. 

Irving, who turned 26 on Friday, finishes his first regular season with Boston appearing in 60 games while averaging 24.4 points per game on a career-best 49.1 percent shooting from the field.