WHERE: TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts
WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant (Out, ankle), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Justise Winslow (Out, hip), Jontay Porter (Out, knee), Xavier Tillman Sr. (Out, Patella), Killian Tillie (Out, hamstring), De’Anthony Melton (Out, Health and Safety Protocols)
BOSTON- Tacko Fall (Out, eye), Kemba Walker (Out, knee), Romeo Langford (Out, wrist)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
BOSTON: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson
So wait...you still have to play basketball games when your two best players are out due to injury?
Life is so unfair.
All joking aside, the post-Morant injury chapter of the story that is the 2020-2021 Memphis Grizzlies begins tonight in Boston against the Celtics. The projected starting lineup above is merely an educated guess - Coach Taylor Jenkins seems to like the idea of Grayson Allen, and Tyus Jones sliding in to the spot vacated by Ja Morant due to the Grade 2 ankle sprain he suffered at the hands of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s big dumb foot in Brooklyn on Monday night. Occam’s Razor suggests the easiest thing to do is start Tyus, sub him out early, and roll from there.
Should that be the move? Only cowards believe so. But it’s our best dive in to the collective mind of a coaching staff that surely feels as if they have some of the worst luck imaginable when it comes to injuries.
Unfortunately for them, the Boston Celtics and the NBA at large doesn’t care about the health woes of the Grizzlies. The games grind on. And with Boston on the second night of a back to back after a 116-111 victory over the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics will have their own adversity to deal with. Boston is relatively young, so it seems unlikely they execute a mass “load management” game like the Nets did. But tired legs could give the weary-minded Grizzlies an advantage,
Here are some things to watch for tonight.
It isn’t who you start...
A lot will be made of who fills in for Ja in the starting lineups. And that makes total sense - after all, beginning games strongly helps in the process of winning basketball. Yet perhaps more importantly, if Memphis wants to pick off victories where perhaps they aren’t supposed to gain them, who closes these contests will matter. After all, the fourth quarter heroics of Morant have been documented here, there, and everywhere. Replacing Ja is impossible. But if the Grizzlies want to stay in the hunt for the play-in over the next couple of weeks they’ll need someone to step up and score the ball.
The usual suspects like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas will surely be in that mix. But who else will answer the call? Could the surging Kyle Anderson take advantage and solidify himself as a dark horse Most Improved Player candidate early in the season? Maybe Brandon Clarke, who looked much better in Monday’s overtime win in Brooklyn, will return to last season’s full form and step up his production.
In all likelihood it will be a collective effort. But especially if the game is close late, who ends the night on the floor for Memphis will say a lot more about who Taylor Jenkins and this staff trusts right now in tough times than any words.
Handling the backcourt
Memphis has a point guard depth problem. It is perhaps the biggest reason to argue for “Point Forward” Kyle Anderson and keeping Tyus Jones as a reserve. When both Kyle and Tyus are off the floor...who runs the offense for the Grizzlies? Boston has the opposite happening in their back court. Marcus Smart is the de facto “point guard” in their starting unit, but they have two more true floor general types coming off the bench in rookie Payton Pritchard and veteran Jeff Teague along with combo option Javonte Green. They provided 22 points on 20 shots for the Boston bench against Indiana and, assuming the Celtics rotation and reserves are the same in this game, will be the biggest scoring threats for Boston on the perimeter bench wise.
Without Morant, the likes of Desmond Bane and John Konchar are going to see expanded roles and minutes. These two in particular must step up their team and individual defense, as chances are there will be times they have to stay in front off speedier, niftier ball-handling guards than they are accustomed to. With Tatum (often with the bench guards as a small ball four) and Brown on the wings, dribble penetration being limited involving these players could make the difference between a close game in the final frame and a blow out where players are playing mop up duty.
It’s hard to predict this game because so much uncertainty surrounds it. For Boston, do they rest players against a Memphis team nowhere near full strength? For the Grizzlies, how do they respond both in terms of play and in terms of scheme without Ja Morant? It’s a whole new world for Kyle Anderson’s squad (that is so weird to say).
With that in mind, take the team going through much less turmoil at the moment. The win in Brooklyn against pretty strong odds will make this one sting a little less. Look for Memphis to keep it closer than many will predict, but to run out of gas late against a deeper, healthier, and better Boston team.
Boston 118, Memphis 111