As the Celtics’ players gathered their belongings and headed out for tonight’s game in Memphis, Gordon Hayward took a seat at his locker stall, the first one you come across when you enter the Celtics’ locker room.
Like most of us trying to make sense of Boston’s 107-95 loss to Utah, Hayward could sense the disappointment among his teammates.
He offered a few words of encouragement to teammate Semi Ojeleye, whose locker was next to his, soon followed by a few more words for Jaylen Brown whose mindset was already on to the next game tonight at Memphis.
“We’re going to come out, respond, play as hard as we can,” said Brown, who added, “just come out and get a win against Memphis.”
That “on-to-the-next-one” mantra has served Boston well this season and they'll look to continue along those lines against the Grizzlies tonight.
Despite losses in three of their past five, the Celtics (24-7) still have the best record in the East – two games ahead of Cleveland (21-8).
“We got a big one [tonight],” said Terry Rozier. “We just have to pay attention to the details and take care of business.”
Here are under the radar storylines heading into tonight’s game against Memphis.
THE AL AND KYRIE SHOW
We have seen these two work in sync with one another for a good chunk of this season, so it was not all that surprising to see both play well against the Jazz. They combined to score 54 of Boston’s 95 points, or 56.8 percent of their scoring. And when it came to setting up teammates, they had 13 of Boston’s 20 assists, or 65 percent. They don’t have to be that dominant tonight, but putting up comparable numbers – and maybe getting one or two players to chip in as well – would go far in Boston getting back on a winning track.
THE "NEW" COACH
J.B. Bickerstaff became Memphis’ interim head coach after the organization fired David Fizdale after a 7-12 start. Like any interim head coach, he’s trying his best to make a favorable impression so that the "interim" tag will be dropped. So far? Not great. The Grizzlies have lost eight of 10 since Fizdale’s firing in large part because of injuries – which was among the factors that contributed to Fizdale’s struggles. This isn’t Bickerstaff’s first go-around as an NBA head coach. As an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, he was named the interim coach when Kevin McHale was fired in 2015. Bickerstaff went 37-34 and led the Rockets to the first round of the playoffs where they were eliminated in five games by the Golden State Warriors.
Talent, timing and effort all go hand-in-hand when it comes to rebounding success, with effort being the most critical component. And against the Jazz, Boston just didn’t seem to bring it at any point in the game. And the end result was a 55-31 rebounding advantage for the Jazz. Boston may catch a break tonight against the Grizzlies, who come into tonight’s game with a rebounding percentage of .478 which ranks 27th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA.
D ON THE DECLINE
Friday night’s game against Utah was yet another underwhelming performance by Boston’s defense. The Celtics had a defensive rating of 109.3. For the season, the Celtics still have the league’s top defense – barely. Their 100.6 defensive rating is just a smidge better than Oklahoma City (100.7). And once again, Boston might get some relief tonight against a Memphis team that has struggled offensively all season. They come into the game with an offensive rating of 101.4, which ranks 27th in the league.
It’s still too soon to say if Tatum has hit the rough patch all first-year players endure – better known as the rookie wall – but there’s no question his scoring of late has been off. The past three games, Tatum, 19, has scored a total of 26 points, which is the fewest he has scored in a three-game stretch as a pro. The rookie had seven points on 1-for-7 shooting against the Jazz, bringing his shooting numbers in the past three games to a not-so-great 8-for-22 (36.4 percent).