Could you blame them?
The Grizzlies and Celtics are two of the hottest teams in the league right now, as they are both in the top 5 in winning percentage since the new year. They both have bonafide stars in Ja Morant and Jayson Tatum as well. Jaren Jackson and Robert Williams are in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, so the chess match on that end of the floor should be also be fun.
Nonetheless, the Grizzlies have been solidifying themselves as a must-see team, behind the show-stopping brilliance of MVP candidate Ja Morant.
To get us ready for this game, I chat with Jesse Cinquini — fellow GBBer and also a member of Celtics Blog, the Boston Celtics SB Nation blog — on these two teams.
1) What’s been the biggest key in this Celtic surge?
Boston’s defense is what has spearheaded this winning stretch. Over the last 15 games, the Celtics are 12-3, boast the NBA’s best defensive rating by nearly five points (101.7), and lead the league in blocks (7.0) as well. Aside from Payton Pritchard, everyone in the rotation is an above-average irritant or better. Simply put, the Celtics are the best defensive team I have seen in a long time.
2) The Celtics acquired Derrick White over the trade deadline. How has he fit in?
White fits this team like a glove. He’s been Boston’s best reserve since the moment he stepped foot in Beantown, providing a combination of perimeter defense, playmaking, and shot-making unmatched by any other bench player on the roster. Aside from his poor three-point shooting (24.4% as a Celtic), it’s hard to find any faults with his time in Boston thus far.
3) How do the Celtics rotate through not having a traditional point guard?
I would argue they do have a point guard, and his name is Marcus Smart. Let’s not forget Smart was a floor general in college. And, he is dishing out the second-most assists per game of his pro career (5.4) this season. Smart’s playmaking, plus leaps from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as facilitators and the addition of Derrick White, have allowed the Celtics to get by without an elite dime-dropper.
4) Robert Williams has made a real leap this season as a defender. Where does he stand in the DPOTY discussion?
Williams is the linchpin to Boston’s elite defense. He’s a dominant rim protector (2.2 blocks per game) who’s more than capable of checking perimeter players when the Celtics switch-heavy defensive scheme calls for it. Williams deserves serious consideration for an All-Defensive team. Still, I can’t picture him winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mikal Bridges, and Jaren Jackson Jr. have been just as good (if not better) defensively while playing for teams with better records.
5) What are your “outsider” thoughts on Memphis Grizzlies this year?
I think the Grizzlies are one year away from legitimate title contention. Ja Morant has emerged as a top-ten player in the game, Desmond Bane is a Most Improved Player candidate, and Jaren Jackson Jr. has bounced back after a slow start to the year. But all of those players are still in their early 20s and lack playoff experience. Memphis’ ceiling this season is probably the Conference Finals, although they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference for years to come.