Why Celtics holding Grizzlies under 100 points mattered

By WEEI 93.7

Back-to-back blowout wins against Western Conference playoff-caliber teams is never a bad thing. Yes, the Grizzlies are a fringe playoff team in the West, but things would be a bit different if they were in the Eastern Conference — even though the Celtics’ 119-95 win on Wednesday might indicate otherwise. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

Boston got offensive contributions from everyone throughout the night. Jayson Tatum (23 points) was in control until he strained his groin in the third quarter and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.

But, when looking at the bigger picture, the Celtics’ defense in the win was much more significant.

“We (have) pressured the ball better the past couple games. I do think we looked a little fresher, I think that is part of it," Brad Stevens said. " But I think that we were not allowing the ball to get to the paint before, you know, you feel the pressure.  If that happens with us — I’ve said this all year — if they catch it on the block without any resistance, if they catch it inside the three or at the 3-point line without resistance, then we’re in trouble. We’re just — 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. And we were better the last two games at that.”

This was something elsepic.twitter.com/uuCZ1yReM4

— Nick Friar (@Nick_Friar) January 23, 2020

Now, Memphis may be a fringe playoff team, but they have no trouble scoring. Until Wednesday’s game, the Grizzlies had scored 100 or more points every game since December 7. That’s a 22-game span.

In that time frame, win or lose, Memphis scored 100-plus against the Jazz, Bucks, Heat, Thunder (twice), Spurs (twice), Clippers and Rockets.

“They were in the passing lanes, the driving lanes … that just seemed to spark their transition,” Memphis coach Tayor Jenkins said of the Celtics.

Ja Morant scored two points on Wednesday, and he was averaging 17.3 points per game over the last 20 games. (Morant missed two games in the aforementioned 22-game stretch.) The rookie can score on anyone, but the Celtics didn’t allow him to find his rhythm.

One last set of stats: the Celtics took on a Lakers team that averages 113.7 points per game and a Grizzlies team that averages 113.2 and held them both well below those marks (the Lakers scored 107 on Monday).

“That’s what they’re known for,” Jaren Jackson Jr. said of the Celtics’ defensive intensity.

Explosive Hayward!!!! pic.twitter.com/V1IssJEqmf

— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) January 23, 2020

Clearly, this is a step in the right direction for Boston’s defense, given where things were in the three games that preceded Monday’s. Identifying and resolving the problems is, of course, huge. But the fact the Celtics didn’t let the losing streak last longer, or they weren’t lazy after the big win over Los Angeles, shows the team is on the same page. They can work through the bad times and have an idea of how to keep things rolling when they’re hot.

Still, the Celtics have only done this over two games. They have a three-game road trip ahead of them down South, where they’ll have to face two Eastern Conference playoff teams and the New Orleans Pelicans — who have Zion Williamson back.

Things aren’t getting any easier, and every game is important if the Celtics want to work their way back to the second spot in the Eastern Conference standings — and keep hold of that position.

“It’s going to take everybody (being) on the same page,” Marcus Smart said when asked what it will take to maintain this level of play on defense. “Everybody out there can guard multiple positions. That’s what makes it so hard. One guy is off, not doing his job or one guy is slacking or one guy is not going as hard, it affects the whole group. So, for us, it’s just staying focused and on the same page.”

For more Celtics and NBA coverage, be sure to subscribe to WEEI’s 5 Out podcast. The podcast is available on RADIO.COM, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify.