Celtics

Celtics hang on to beat Grizzlies 102-93 in roller coaster game

Celtics hang on to beat Grizzlies 102-93 in roller coaster game

The Boston Celtics finished Saturday’s game against Memphis similar to how it began – in control.

But it was the time in between that has to be of concern to Brad Stevens and the Celtics who came away with a 102-93 win.

While Boston (25-7) got the win, this was yet another game when the Celtics had long stretches in which they struggled at both ends of the floor.

But the key to this victory was a 16-0 run to start the fourth quarter that put the Grizzlies (9-21) in a hole that they were never able to climb out of.

Boston’s 1-2 punch of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were once again impressive for the Celtics, scoring 20 points and 15 points, respectively.

The Celtics also got a strong game from Jayson Tatum who had a near double-double of 19 points and nine rebounds.

Memphis (9-21) was led by Marc Gasol’s game-high 30 points. The Grizzlies also got a strong performance from Tyreke Evans who had 25 points.

Boston’s strong finish wasn’t all that different than how they began the game in the first quarter.

In the first, the Celtics looked like the team with the best record in the East playing one of the league’s worst teams, dominating play in every way imaginable.

Tatum had eight points in the quarter, which was more than he had the previous night when the Celtics lost 107-95 at home to the Utah Jazz.

The Celtics’ first-quarter lead peaked at 21 points before the quarter ended with Boston holding a commanding 31-12 lead.

Now the second quarter?

A totally different story.

Boston went from working over the Grizzlies, to just being plain woeful.

And the issue was obvious … Boston’s defense.

After treating the lane as a “Do Not Enter” zone for Memphis’ players in the first quarter, it was more like an EZ pass lane for the Grizzlies in the second with one lightly contested drive after another.

And when Boston began to plug that leak, Evans – a 42 percent 3-point shooter coming into the game – began to heat up to bring Memphis within 48-40 at the half.

But the second quarter was once again about as bad as you could imagine for the Celtics.

Memphis’ strong play in the second quarter continued early in the third with the Grizzlies making it a 53-all game following a jumper by Gasol as part of a 13-5 Memphis run.

However, the Celtics regained the lead moments later when Kyrie Irving found Aron Baynes open around the rim for a lay-up.

Gasol hit another jumper, with Irving coming back with a 3-pointer that put the Celtics back on top.

Yes, the 21-point lead that Boston opened the first quarter with was a thing of the past now.

The Celtics, led by Marcus Smart, went on a 9-0 run that gave Boston a 69-60 lead.

But the Grizzlies bounced back with a 10-0 run to take their first lead since it was 5-4.

The two went back and forth as the quarter ended with the Grizzlies ahead 73-71.

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Are the Celtics relying too much on Kyrie Irving?

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Are the Celtics relying too much on Kyrie Irving?

LOS ANGELES – When it comes to scoring, Kyrie Irving ranks among the best in the NBA.

The dude dropped 25-plus points per game a year ago in Cleveland playing with LeBron James, a feat none of James’ other all-star caliber teammates – not Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh – could do. 

MORE - Irving: C's must 'weather the storm'

Being that good at scoring, and doing so with the kind of ball-handling flare that he brings to the game, can be captivating. 

That’s a good thing, unless those watching are your teammates. 

Following Boston’s 103-95 loss to Orlando, a game in which Irving scored 40 points while taking just 23 shots (with 14 makes), it raised questions as to whether the Celtics at times rely too much on their best scorer. 

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Kyrie was being Kyrie. We were trying to make plays as well. We just came up short.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens also shot down talk of the team depending too much on Irving whose 24.5 points per game ranks 11th in the NBA. 

“I think we all have to play better,” Stevens said. 

Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 103-95 loss to the Orlando Magic.

 

TATUM BREAKOUT COMING?

Jayson Tatum is still putting up decent numbers for a rookie, but he hasn’t had the same chilling effect on defenses that we saw through the first 30 or so games. In the lost to the Magic, Tatum was just 4-for-11 shooting from the field, for the second straight game. And it was the third straight game in which he made less than five field goals. The 19-year-old has only had one other stretch like that (Oct. 30 – Nov. 3) this season. So by the numbers and the opponent, it should come as no surprise if Tatum has one of his better games this month, on Tuesday against the Lakers.

 

BENCH SCORING

When the Celtics face teams with a starting five that leads to Marcus Morris being in Boston’s starting lineup, prepare for the bench scoring to take an Enron-like dive. Against the Magic, Boston’s bench scored a total of just eight points on 4-for-19 shooting. The player responsible for most of those misses, Terry Rozier, has to be better than what we saw against Orlando when he missed eight of his nine shot attempts. His value is always key to the bench, but even more so when Morris isn’t with the second unit. 

 

EARLY FOULS

One area Boston would like to improve upon is picking up early fouls on shot attempts. In the first quarter of the Orlando loss, Boston committed five personal fouls total while the Magic were whistled for three. However, the Magic was 5-for-5 from the free throw line in the first quarter while the Celtics’ lone free throw attempt came on technical foul call against Evan Fournier. 

 

NEW YEAR, MORE OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES

While Sunday’s loss to Orlando may have seemed a bit out of character for Boston offensively, it was actually consistent with what we’ve seen from the Green Team this month. The Celtics came into the Orlando game averaging 97.8 points in January (they had 95 against the Magic), shooting 30.4 percent on 3’s (they made 29.6 percent against Orlando) while committing 14.7 turnovers per game (they had 15 against the Magic).

 

JAYLEN BROWN

It was easy to overlook Jaylen Brown’s play having come in the same game Kyrie Irving goes off for 40 points. But there was a lot to like about how Brown played against Orlando. Like many of his teammates, Brown played with a much greater motor in the fourth quarter than he did through the previous three, but it was by and large a solid night for the second-year player. He had 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds while playing more minutes (37) than all Celtics except for Irving who played 40 minutes.

Celtics hope West Coast swings momentum back in their favor

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Celtics hope West Coast swings momentum back in their favor

LOS ANGELES – In the aftermath of Boston’s 103-95 loss to Orlando, the Boston Celtics did their best to maintain their “on to the next one” mentality.

It’s pretty easy to do when the wins pile up like New England snowbanks.

But that’s not where this team is right now … not even close.

They have lost three in a row for the first time this season, which in itself isn’t all that big a deal.

But it’s how the losses have come about.

The 116-13 overtime loss to New Orleans on Tuesday had a lot to do with a monster game by Anthony Davis. And Boston's 89-80 loss to Philadelphia had more to do with an anemic offense. On Sunday, it was one horrific third quarter of play (Boston was outscored 32-12 in the third) that dwarfed the other three.

The bottom line is simple: the Celtics are not playing good basketball and unlike earlier stretches when that was the case, the pathway to victory of late has been a dead end.

Now comes another challenge – taking their talents out West for four games beginning with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown said his approach to this upcoming trip isn’t all that different than how he has approached previous games.

“Look at the film, see how we can play better, like we always do, win or lose, and try and come out and get a ‘W,’” Brown said.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments.

"One game at a time; one meeting at a time,” Stevens said. “Everything else, we’ll figure out how to play better.”

The Celtics (34-13) are in no position to approach any of these games, even against the struggling Lakers (17-29), as a matchup they can just show up and victory will fall in their lap.

“Once we get into games, we have to understand teams are coming for us, said Al Horford. “I’ve felt like we handled it okay throughout the season, but it’s even more evident now.”

Indeed, the Celtics have been among the teams in not just the East but the NBA, that most of the league’s teams have been trying to catch up to this season.

Even with three straight losses, Boston still has a two-game lead in East over Toronto (31-14) and have the third-best overall record in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors (37-10) and Houston Rockets (32-12).

And while Boston will surely be challenged during its four-game trip out West, the Celtics have every reason to believe they will find success most nights.

For starters, Boston has a 12-3 record against the Western Conference this season  - tops among all teams in the East - which includes wins over the top five teams (Golden State; Houston; San Antonio; Minnesota and Oklahoma City) in the Western Conference.

And of the four teams on the docket – Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State and Denver – Boston has a perfect 3-0 record with the only team they have yet to play being the Clippers.

I asked Kyrie Irving how does the three-game losing streak change the mindset of the Celtics heading out West.

“It definitely puts a huge emphasis on the next game,” he said. “What we have to do to put ourselves in great position to win at the end of the day. We’re going to be playing against some hungry teams out in the Western Conference. They’ve come in here and played pretty well against us except for the Clippers. So, this is great for a young developing team like we have. And it’s fun. You can learn so much more about each other. Not that we didn’t learn anything after these last three losses, but going on the road is a test.”

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