WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee)
BOSTON: Tristan Thompson (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Romeo Langford (Out, Health and Safety Protocols)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
BOSTON: Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
After a weekend split with the Golden State Warriors that many Grizzlies fans would probably describe as a failure given the health issues the Warriors were facing, Memphis finds themselves in a less than advantageous situation. Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and company are looking to log as many “easy” wins as possible, and with Steph Curry out all weekend only snagging one win stings. That especially holds true as the Grizzlies finish out their home stand tonight against a similarly desperate for wins Boston Celtics squad that has underachieved to this point in the season.
The last time these two teams played in Boston, the Celtics ran the Grizzlies off the floor to the tune of 126-107 in a game that could’ve been a lot worse. Memphis was never really in control - Boston outscored the Grizzlies by 26 in the first half of their prior encounter, and Ja Morant and his teammates never seemed in the mix to compete. Jaylen Brown had 42 points on 21 shots. Robert Williams was a +28 in 23 minutes off the bench. Considering how hit or miss the Celtics have been this season, getting blown out in such a fashion is an underrated bad loss for Memphis in this campaign.
Can they avoid a similar fate at home? Perhaps. Here’s how.
Brandon Clarke must thrive against Time Lord
The last time these two teams faced off, Brandon Clarke saw a vast majority of his minutes at the traditional “4” position, with Gorgui Dieng logging considerable playing time. Of course, that is no longer the case - Dieng has fallen out of the Memphis rotation (although he did post 17 points and 6 rebounds against Boston) and appears destined for the trade or possibly even the buy-out market over the next few days. In the “absence” of Dieng, Clarke has transitioned to more time as the team’s back-up “5” and he is thriving in that role. His athleticism and aggression offensively are better suited for this role, and while he is undersized for the position there is no denying he is better able to find mismatches against reserve centers.
Robert Williams III, however, is a different animal. He destroyed the Grizzlies in Boston and impacted the game on both ends of the floor. In order for Memphis to hang against a strong team like the Celtics, the reserve unit must not allow the likes of “Time Lord” to take over this game and produce at a high level. The strength of Boston is their starters - their weakness is their reserve unit. With Clarke back to coming off the bench (for now) and specifically playing the “5” more, it will be up to him to take away one of the key reserve cogs in the Boston machine.
An early test for Ja Morant
It is easy to look as recent shooting woes for Grizzlies star Ja Morant, especially from range, and say “Memphis has to get Ja going!” Of course they do - he’s their most important player both in the here and now and in the future. But this match-up isn’t ideal for Ja. Defensively, the likes of Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart can create in the pick and roll, which is where Morant is especially struggling right now. Offensively, if Smart draws the Morant assignment Ja will have a De’Anthony Melton clone with more experienced guarding him and Boston is better suited to handle what Ja wants to do as a scorer. It’s not the best matchup. And considering how Ja has not been himself in multiple ways on a consistent basis, that can be cause for concern tonight.
That all can be true while also being a point of emphasis for the Grizzlies to try to change course on against Boston. Getting Morant going in a game that he isn’t supposed to thrive in could be a real boost for his confidence. On the defensive end, it starts with Ja. He can’t die on picks and screens. He can’t just pick and choose his spots to give effort. His energy there will feed in to transition offense, where Morant can thrive even against the theoretically great Celtics defenders (21st in defensive rating this season) who could very well give Morant fits in half court sets.
Ja likes to look to get others going early. It’s a good night to be selfish. Hopefully Taylor Jenkins agrees.
As of this writing the Grizzlies are a one-point favorite, making this game a toss-up. That sounds about right. Boston likely will not have a scalding hot Jaylen Brown to carry them in Memphis, and the last time these two teams saw each other Ja Morant was inactive. Even when struggling, the skill set of Ja commands respect that will allow for the Grizzlies to be in the mix in this contest. In a game both teams need, the fact that Boston is on the second night of a back to back (a blowout win over Orlando yesterday led them here today) and Memphis is well rested will make the second half difference.
Memphis 112, Boston 110