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Tatum Stays Hot to Lead Boston over Memphis

(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Although the season is still young, this seemed like an early statement game for Boston. A chance to go on the road and beat a tough, talented Grizzlies squad. Boston came in having won 12 of their past 13 matchups against Memphis. Both teams currently sit toward the top of their conferences, and this was sure to be an entertaining matchup.

It was the Marcus Smart show early on, as he scored 10 of the first 12 Celtic points. Smart is at his best offensively when he is attacking the rim or knocking down open threes, both of which he started off doing. Boston entered the night with the 22nd-best scoring defense in the league, allowing 115.3 points per game. The defensive side of the floor has been a far cry from last year, where they looked like an all-time great defense. While Boston was able to contain Memphis star Ja Morant to only 4 first-quarter points, they still allowed 34 points to open the game. Outside of Smart, no Celtic was able to get much going, as Tatum and Brown opened the game a combined 4/14. Emotions from both sides looked to be running high as the teams went to their benches. These are two of the more physical teams in the league, and we could expect a high-intensity matchup.

Memphis opened the second quarter with a seven-point lead which was very short-lived. Malcolm Brogdon began the quarter with consecutive threes, and Jayson Tatum followed with one of his own to force a quick Taylor Jenkins timeout. The timeout couldn't stop Boston’s momentum, as Tatum capped off an 18-0 Celtic run with seven in a row of his own to put Boston up 49-40 midway through the second quarter. The guys in green were firing on all cylinders and had completely taken the life out of the FedEx Forum. Boston’s energy on both sides of the floor was noticeable from the jump, making life miserable for the home team. Much like Saturday night in New York, this game turned into a shootout, which played right into Boston’s hands. They entered tonight averaging 16.0 made threes per game, the best in the NBA by a significant margin. If Memphis was looking for a three-point contest, they picked the wrong opponent. By the end of the half, JT had racked up 25 points and carried Boston to a 65-54 lead at the intermission. Double-digit leads were becoming familiar for the Celtics, as they have had one in every single game this year.

In Boston’s three losses this year, they have been outscored in the third quarter 101-73. The “middle 8” minutes (The last 4 of the first half, the first 4 of the second) often win or lose games, and Boston needed a good start to the half to keep the Grizz at bay.

The C’s started the quarter slow and saw their lead get down to 5 points as Ja got hot from long range. Al Horford was doing his best to cap Morant, as he scored 10 points in the first 8 minutes of the quarter. Horford is the definition of solid for this team. A high-IQ, veteran leader who knows his role and is capable of picking up some offensive slack when needed. He has been asked to do a bit more with Robert Williams missing some time and has taken it in stride. A 12-2 Grizzlies run towards the end of the third brought some life back to the home team, and they entered the final quarter of play with the lead, 85-84. Once again, a poor third quarter for Boston might cost them a chance at a quality win. The simple formula for the Celts is this: Don’t turn the ball over and keep the ball moving on offense. When Boston gets stuck in a rut, it’s due to turnovers and poor ball movement which results in too much 1-on-1 basketball. They would enter the fourth needing to recapture some of the energy that sparked a 20-0 second-quarter run.

What was once a shootout, had turned into a grinder for both sides. Each team desperately needed someone to step up and start making some plays on offense. The Jays went on a quick 5-0 spurt to give Boston a 95-90 lead with 7:13 left to play. Boston’s defense began to show its teeth and was making things extremely difficult for Memphis. Ja Morant received their full attention and was bottled up for the time being. How do you kill the snake? You cut the head off. And that is exactly what Boston was doing. Preventing Morant from getting downhill had the Grizzlies stuck in neutral, and they never got out. Meanwhile, the stars were taking care of business on offense for the C’s. An emphatic transition dunk to go up 11 with three minutes left from Tatum all but wrapped this one up. Right? Let’s remember these are the Celtics we are talking about, not exactly the world’s greatest closers. Memphis started fouling, and the Celtics responded by missing four free throws in a row. Inexplicably, Boston allowed Memphis to cut the lead to one point with 2.2 seconds left. Tatum would head to the line for 2, where he would sink both. A half-court heave from Morant was off the mark, and the Celtics would escape Memphis with a 109-106 victory.

Key Stats

1. 21 fourth-quarter points given up by Boston's defense. For the second game in a row, the Celtic defense totally shut down the opponent in the 4th. Ja Morant was held in check, and they did a much better job rebounding. Now the challenge is bringing that intensity for a full game.

2. Memphis outscored Boston 31-19 in the third quarter. This has been a reoccurring issue for Boston, dating back to last year. They lost the NBA Finals due to their inability to open the second half, and so far this year it has been the same. Boston needs to find a way to at least be average in third quarters.

3. Boston forced Ja Morant to take 12 three-pointers. While he hit five, Boston seemed comfortable with letting Ja have those walk-up three-pointers. Historically he is not the best shooter, and you would much rather have him take 12 threes than attack downhill all game. I liked this strategy from Mazzulla.

Player of the Game: Marcus Smart

Yes, I know Jayson Tatum nearly dropped 40. However, if you watched this game, you saw the impact Marcus Smart had. He scored 15 points and added 12 assists (only 2 TO's) and 7 rebounds. Smart opened the game on fire and did an excellent job of creating for his teammates the whole night. No matter your opinion of smart, it can't be denied that he is the heartbeat of this team. His energy and leadership is invaluable to this team.

Up Next:

Boston returns to action Wednesday night at home, where they will take on the 3-8 Detroit Pistons at 6:30 PM CST.

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