WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: TNT/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
BETTING ODDS: Grizzlies -3, O/U 224 (Odds can be found on DraftKings)
MEMPHIS: Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle), Yves Pons (Out, thigh), John Konchar (Questionable, ankle)
Boston: Jaylen Brown (Out, ankle)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
BOSTON: Marcus Smart, Aaron Nesmith, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Robert Williams III
What will Ja Morant do next?
That’s what the NBA world is wondering after his incredible 52 point performance Monday night against San Antonio, which included a miracle buzzer beater and the posterization of Jakob Poeltl. That effort was on the heels of Ja setting a then regular season franchise record with 46 points against the Bulls in the house that Jordan built.
Now, Ja will be going up against the league’s second best defense in the Boston Celtics. Is Ja up for the task? Of course he is, but things may not be as easy as it has been against the Spurs and Bulls.
Both of these teams are somewhat similar in their situation in their respective conferences. Both are jockeying for playoff positioning with an eye on moving up. The Grizzlies sit at third, just a half game behind Golden State, while Boston is in the six spot in the East but only five games out of the top spot.
Not only are they trying to move up in the standings, but both are playing their best basketball right now. Since January 1st, the Grizzlies have the second best record in the NBA at 20-6, while Boston has the fifth best at 20-8; and both teams are 8-2 in their last ten games.
In saying all of that, it is fair to mention the Grizzlies are getting a break, as the Celtics will be without Jaylen Brown - depending on who you ask, he is either the most or second most important player on the team.
I’ve learned not to doubt that just Ja being Ja can lead the Grizzlies to a win, but here are a couple of other things the Grizz can do tonight to pick up a win against one of the East’s elite.
The expectation is that this will be the Ja vs. Jayson Tatum show. I mean, that’s why the NBA decided to flex this game into a national TV showcase on TNT. But, all good shows need a good supporting cast.
As I mentioned a bit ago, the Celtics are a really good defensive team. The focus will be on stopping Ja Morant and keeping him from getting his points in the paint. That task is easier said than done, but the rest of the starters HAVE to contribute. Ja has outscored the rest of the starting lineup combined in each of the last two wins; he was one point short of doing it in the loss right before the All-Star break to Portland. Desmond Bane is in a small slump, but it is only the second time all season where he has strung together three games in a row without scoring 20 points — to me that means he’s due. And Jaren has been in foul trouble — 4 of the last 6 games he’s had at least 5 fouls — so that limits his minutes and doesn’t allow him to get into a rhythm.
On the other side, either Tatum or Brown has been the leading scorer in 57 of the Celtics 64 games. Of the three other players who have led the Celtics in scoring, only Marcus Smart remains on the team. The Grizzlies must make sure that one of the other guys doesn’t go off against them. In their win over Atlanta, Smart, Grant Williams, and Derrick White combined for 52 points to help them win after Brown left the game just 3 minutes in.
Keep the Foot on the Gas
The NBA is a game of runs, so no lead is safe. But in the three games since the All-Star break, the Grizzlies have held a lead of at least 15 points. In all three games, that lead has been erased and the opposing team had at least one possession where they could or did take the lead. You cannot allow Boston to do that. Boston erased a 17 point deficit against Atlanta after Brown went down with an injury. Boston has a bunch of guys that can score in bunches.
The good news is that the Grizzlies do manage to keep games close, as they have not trailed by more than 6 in those last three games.
This game is going to come down to who can impose their will more. Celtics have a top-5 defense, while the Memphis Grizzlies have a top-5 offense. I feel that the Grizzlies role players will come up big, as Ja has proven himself as a scorer and may take a backseat to setting up his teammates in this one. Don’t get me wrong, if Ja feels like he has to be the one to score, he will take over.
The absence of Jaylen Brown will be the difference, and the Grizzlies will go to Boston and steal one from the Celtics.
Bonus Betting Breakdown: Saying the Grizzlies will win is also me saying they will cover. The Memphis Grizzlies have not lost against the spread in an actual win since they beat the Lakers on December 29th. That’s 21 straight! I also think the total will go over — the Grizzlies are 8-1 on the over when the total is between 223 and 226. The over has also hit in 5 of the Celtics last 6 games.
Final: Grizzlies 119 Boston 110