Celtics

Celtics-Grizzlies Takeaways: And the beat(down) goes on, defense fuels another C's blowout

Celtics-Grizzlies Takeaways: And the beat(down) goes on, defense fuels another C's blowout

BOSTON -- Following the Boston Celtics' pummeling of the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, I asked Gordon Hayward what does it take for the C's to have a few more nights like that. 

“It’s our defense,” he said. “When we’re playing really well, we’re flying around on defense, communicating…and that translates to our offense and overall, we just play better.”

Do. They. Ever.

Boston's defense triggered a 23-2 run in the second quarter that put the Grizzlies in a hole that they simply could never climb out of as the Celtics pulled away for a 119-95 blowout win. 

And to think, just a few days ago there were questions about what's wrong with the Celtics. 

While they are very much a work in progress, a second blowout in as many games against either a title contender (the Lakers) or one of the league's hottest teams (Grizzlies), speaks to how dominant this team can be on any given night regardless of the opponent. 

And while Memphis (20-25) came in with a losing record, this victory was indeed a quality one for Boston considering how well the Grizzlies came in with wins in seven of their previous eight games. 

The decisive win was certainly bolstered by another strong shooting night.

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But this win, much like the Lakers victory, had more to do with the defense playing at a high level. 

And now, the question is no longer about whether the Celtics can play at an elite level against quality teams. 

It has more to do with, can they take that elite defense, efficient shot-making brand of basketball we've seen lately, on the road? 

DANIEL THEIS

In the first half, Daniel Theis channeled his inner-Marcus Smart, delivering an unexpected barrage of 3-pointers before finishing with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting. 

One of the keys to Memphis’ success of late has been the play of Jaren Jackson Jr., whose inside-outside game puts him among the best young bigs in the NBA. 

Having Theis show he too can knock down long-range shots, as well as score from inside the paint, helped neutralize Jackson’s impact. 

JAYSON TATUM

He was among the better performers in Boston’s blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers, and seemingly picked up where he left off. 

Tatum led the Celtics with 23 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists before leaving in the third quarter with a groin injury. 

Brad Stevens said after the game that the injury, “didn’t sound like it was too bad. I’m not that concerned.” Stevens said Tatum will be tested again on Thursday.

Similar to what we saw against the Lakers, the timing of Tatum’s scoring was just as important as the final point total. 

Rather than scoring to keep the Grizzlies from getting back into the game, many of Tatum’s baskets added to what was one of the more demoralizing losses for Memphis this season. 

And to Tatum’s credit, it was clear that he had a great feel for what the Celtics needed from him at all times. 

There will be nights when Tatum won’t be nearly as good scoring as we saw on Monday or against the Lakers. 

Still, what we are seeing is his overall growth as a star, showing steady improvement on how to give the game what it needs from him. 

ROOKIE WALL FORMATION

Ja Morant has been absolutely killin’ teams with his explosive scoring which ranks atop rookie leaders this season. 

This is the same guy that dropped 30 points on the Brooklyn Nets and a healthy Kyrie Irving, lit up the Utah Jazz and Donovan Mitchell for 25 recently and dropped a cool 26 on the Houston Rockets and their 1-2 punch of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. 

But the Celtics weren’t in the mood to be the latest team to get lit up by the runaway leader for NBA Rookie of the Year, limiting him to a career-low two points on 1-for-5 shooting. 

The way the Celtics treated Morant provided a snapshot of how Boston treated the entire Grizzlies team; looking like a team that was focused on playing the Memphis team of the moment (winners of seven of eight) rather than one with a below-.500 record. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

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USA Today Sports Images

Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

CHICAGO -- The untimely death of Kobe Bryant was the theme leading up to Sunday night’s All-Star game which was won by Team LeBron, 157-155.

The night began with a series of tributes to Bryant which included a stirring speech given by Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

Throughout Johnson’s speech, there was the occasional “Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be!” chant from the stands.

And the actual game itself was one of the better-played All-Star games in recent memory courtesy of a new format that seemed to go over well with all involved. 

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The game came down to big shots and big stops by both teams, a fitting end to the night considering how all involved wanted to honor Kobe Bryant and did just that with a brand of basketball that in many ways was part of the Kobe narrative of elite play at both ends of the floor. 

Chris Paul acknowledged the challenge of playing the game at a high level and not think about Bryant who was a major influence for many of today’s All-Star players. 

“It was tough early, especially early,” Paul said. “For a lot of us, it's still surreal. It's not real until you start showing pictures and talking about it. But I think the best way we could honor Kobe, Gigi, and everyone involved was to play like we played, you know what I Mean? Me and Russ (Russell Westbrook) kept talking about it, that's one thing about Kobe, whenever he was on our team in the All-Star Game, there wasn't none of that cool stuff. There wasn't none of that. It was like, as long as they throw the ball up, let's get to it.”

LeBron James added, “You could definitely feel his presence just from the start. From every moment from the fans chanting his name till you seen the numbers. Every time you saw Giannis' team run on the floor, you saw the 2-4. So he was definitely here.”

Former NBA All-Star Richard “Rip” Hamilton was among those in attendance at the game. 

He and Bryant were both prep stars who grew up competing with and against each other in Pennsylvania and were at times roommates during all-star competitions.

Hamilton acknowledged he still hasn’t fully come to grips with what happened to Bryant and the others. 

“It hurt me, man, it hurt me to my core,” Hamiton told NBC Sports Boston. “And I still haven’t fully recovered from it. Him and I go back way before the NBA and the glitz and glamor and everything else. It’s a thing that … it still impacts me to this day.”

And once the current crop of All-Star players stepped on the floor, Team Giannis wore jersey number 24 (Kobe Bryant’s number) while Team LeBron wore jersey number 2 (the number of GiGi Bryant, Kobe’s daughter). 

Boston’s Jayson Tatum is among the many players on the floor whose game was heavily influenced by Bryant who along with his daughter Gigi, was killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. 

The relationship between Tatum and Bryant had grown into a friendship strengthened by Bryant’s interest in mentoring Tatum who has never shied away from acknowledging how influential Bryant has been in his life, both on the court as well as off the court since coming into the NBA. 

“He was the reason I started playing basketball,” Tatum said recently. “To have him reach out and try and help me, wanna work with me was something I would never forget.”

Jayson Tatum forges key relationships at memorable first All-Star Game

Jayson Tatum forges key relationships at memorable first All-Star Game

CHICAGO -- In the days leading up to Sunday night’s 69th NBA All-Star game, Jayson Tatum, playing for Team LeBron, was intent on going at teammate and member of Team Giannis, Kemba Walker, every chance he could get. 

True to form, Tatum went right at Walker moments into the second quarter when both were on the floor together. 

He tried to take him into the post, but Walker wasn’t having it. 

Tatum then pulled up for a fadeaway jumper that was off the mark. 

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Chalk that up to one of the many memories Tatum will take away from his first All-Star appearance. 

Tatum would finish with six points while Walker tallied 23 as one of the key performers in Team Giannis' comeback that fell just short as Team LeBron escaped with a 157-155 win with the game-winning score coming on an Anthony Davis free throw. 

But when it comes to the NBA All-Star game, points, rebounds and assists mean little. 

More important are the relationships that are formed and in many instances, strengthened at such events. 

Tatum has been one of the players in his age group for years, so there are a number of All-Stars that he has had a prior connection to, prior to tonight’s game. 

But the one that has been arguably most important to his growth this season, has been that between him and Walker. 

“Kemba, that's my guy,” Tatum said. “Our relationship and friendship has grown a lot over this season so far, from USA basketball to playing on the Celtics to experiencing All-Star together. So it's been a good ride. We're enjoying it.”

Walker is playing in his fourth All-Star game, a player whose status among the NBA’s elite is well cemented. 

Prior to this season, Walker talked often about the growth he saw in Tatum’s game when they were Team USA teammates, along with fellow Celtics Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. 

Recognizing Tatum’s talent, that’s one thing. 

But more than anything, Walker has made a point of encouraging Tatum to continue striving for greatness, and not worry about how that will impact him.

“I’m good. I know who I am and what I can do in this league,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston recently. “Jayson’s really good and part of my job here, is to let him know how great he is and do whatever I can to help him be great all the time.”

During an interview with NBC Sports Boston during All-Star weekend, Walker echoed those sentiments about Tatum. 

“Like I’ve been saying all year, he’s a special talent,” Walker said. “He deserves to be here. I’m happy I’m able to share this one with him; especially his first one. This is the one he’s never going to forget, ever. I’m happy to be a part of it.”