WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Chandler Parsons (Out, “Return from injury management”); Dillon Brooks (Probable, Knee); Joakim Noah (Probable, Heel)
BOSTON-Aron Baynes (Out, Hand)
MEMPHIS- Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr, Marc Gasol
BOSTON- Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris Sr., Al Horford
After an unsettling win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Grizzlies are again in action against the Boston Celtics Saturday night. Memphis is ready to get back on the court after they had a less than impressive offensive performance Wednesday. A win is a win, but that kind of a performance will not be good enough to beat this Celtics team. Boston is coming in off a loss against the Houston Rockets on Thursday.
At the beginning of the year these two teams were on two different trajectories. The Celtics were trending down as the team was trying to find total chemistry having Gordon Hayward back in the mix. As for the Grizzlies, they were outperforming expectations sitting on top of the Western Conference having everything go right for them. Since around Thanksgiving, the two teams have come back to more of what people thought earlier in the year. Boston has won often over their last 14 games as they are rolling once again, and Memphis is going the other way only winning 3 of their last 10 but riding a two-game win streak as well.
This importance of this game is underrated for a late December NBA game. The Grizzlies need this win to continue their recent success and to knock off an NBA title contender making their case they belong in the playoff picture. Conversely, the Celtics need this win because it is a quality road win over a strong Western Conference opponent with a strong home court advantage. It is the type of game that title contenders should win in a convincing manner.
Here are two things to watch in tonight’s contest:
Establishing any kind of offense
In their last game against the Cavs, the Grizzlies looked out of sync most of the contest. The team did have a wire-to-wire win; however, many times during the game they went ice cold shooting the ball. Memphis only shot 22.7% from three. Any team outside of the Cavs would have taken advantage of that shooting mark. Tonight, against the Celtics, they must have a better offensive mindset.
The key to success lies with Jaren Jackson Jr. This isn’t the first time we will say this, and it surely will not be the last. Jackson must get involved with this offense if they have any chance to win games. Luckily, Coach J.B. Bickerstaff is finally getting that message as he played 28 minutes against Cleveland. He needs to see the floor in order to develop more as a player. Against this Celtics team, he has the chance to dominate their frontcourt like he did against the Lakers a few nights ago.
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will also need to get things going in order for the Grizzlies to have a chance at winning this one. For Conley, he will have the opportunity to be more of a scorer around the rim against Boston. They lack the impact shot blocker to disrupt driving guards going to the basket. James Harden in their last game consistently attacked the basket possession after possession, taking over the game. Conley should try the same formula which either will lead to baskets for himself, or open shots for the rest of the team.
For Gasol, he will be in the role of extending Al Horford out of the paint. These two players are similar in nature and can impact the game with a pick and pop style that has worked in the past.
Winning the inside battle
The Boston Celtics are also similar to the Grizzlies in that they do not have much presence on the glass. They are 17th in rebounding, and even as the Grizzlies rank last in that category, the battle inside can be a key strategy for Memphis. This again can happen with Jaren Jackson Jr. pounding away switching up his style to old-school bully ball.
In the game against the Lakers, this was his exact mentality and, from this, scored 27 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. The Grizzlies exploited Zubac, posting him up over multiple possessions letting JJJ work in the post. This same solution could work against the frontcourt of Boston with Marcus Morris and Al Horford being a bit undersized.
I believe JaMychal Green will also have a big rebounding night. He has always excelled against the Celtics in the past recording double-digit rebounds. Bickerstaff will hopefully understand and see this past success and use Green in a larger role off the bench tonight.
With all that being said, I predict that the Celtics will win this game. The only reason the Grizzlies won their last game was because it was against Cleveland, and it was in front of their home crowd. Because of that, I do not have much confidence as their offensive struggles continue.
They need to have the do or die performance they had in Los Angeles two games ago. Conley and Gasol were on their game with Jaren Jackson Jr. dominating the post. That is the type of game the Grizzlies will need to win this game.
Spread: Celtics -3. I am taking the Celtics heavy in this one. Their depth will be too much to handle for the Grizzlies when Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward go against MarShon Brooks and Wayne Selden off the bench. I do think it will be a lower scoring game with these two teams emphasizing defense. The under may be the better play for this game.
Memphis- 91, Boston- 101