Game 11 of 82 (13.4%), Friday, November 21, 500 PST
Celtics @ Grizzlies
There are very few teams in professional sports that attain a level of consistent excellence and remain in the shadows. Win enough games and the shadows become the spotlight. The small market status of the San Antonio and Memphis make it easy for ESPN and TNT to overlook these cities and their dominant teams. The old-school Spurs of 2003-2007 (pre-Kawhi, pre-Danny Green) who relied on suffocating defense and Tim Duncan’s post-up stability were not easy on the eyes. And neither are the Memphis Grizzlies of today.
Zach Randolph is all flying elbows and back-to-the-basket butt-rams. An up-fake or two and back to the foul line. Old friend Tony Allen’s jump shot is nothing less than a construction project, though his defense continues to cause all kinds of problems for wing scorers. The Grizzlies “grit-and-grind” sensibility has meshed perfectly with Memphis’ citizenry. The Grizzlies are a wrecking ball and they wreck offenses on a nightly basis.
Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are the exceptions. Though they play just as physically on the defensive end as any point guard and center combination in the league, they have legitimate offensive artistry in their respective repertoires. Marc Gasol, whose high-post passing skills are rivaled by few bigs other than his older brother Pau, hits backdoor cuts seamlessly. Mike Conley’s ambidextrous dribbling and passing acumen are a sight to behold. Conley’s stifling defense neutralizes the best point men in the game. Tonight would be no different.
Despite having five members of their roster suffering through the stomach virus from hell (I know what that’s like), the Grizzlies were going to beat the Boston Celtics on Friday night, November 21st. It wasn’t a matter of if, but how. The how turned out to be systematic destruction. Points in the paint. Coming into the game, both Memphis and Boston were among the league’s top 5 teams in paint production. Memphis is no surprise. The Celtics, on the other hand, who have no post-presence, are scoring at close range thanks to the following: the Celtics have one of the best passers in the NBA in Rajon Rondo, and they’ve surrounded Rondo with capable shooters and ball-movers. Sadly, Conley’s defense prevented Rondo from even starting his engine.
That fluid Celtics ball movement sputtered its way to 43% shooting against Memphis. At halftime, Memphis was 15 of 19 from the paint, en route to a 55-41 halftime lead. The game moved quickly, as if both teams knew the inevitable outcome and refused to prolong the agony. By halftime, only five free-throws were attempted in total.
Jon Leuer’s Early Thanksgiving Feast
Furthering a trend we’ve seen in the first 10 games, Boston’s lack of defense enabled an opposing reserve big-man to have himself a career night. Jon Leuer was the beneficiary on this night. In the second quarter alone, the 6’10” stretch forward from Long Lake, Minnesota had himself quite the feast. Leuer, who has played in Germany (during the 2011 lockout), Milwaukee, Cleveland and Canton (D-League), has found a home in Memphis. Facing a combination of Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk, Leuer scored 10 points on 5 of 7 shots (three uncontested 10-15 footers, and two lay-ups), 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Leuer did that damage in 9 2nd-quarter minutes. Leuer finished with 19 points on 9 of 13 shooting. I’m not sure he needed a towel when he sat back down on the bench.
Marc Gasol devoured Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Tyler Zeller. He also got away with some serious roughhousing because he’s Marc Gasol. It comes with the territory. The good teams get to physically abuse the bad teams, especially down low. Gasol finished with 32 points on 13 of 22 (10 of his first 16) from the field.
At least Olynyk got some measure of revenge, heating up in the 3rd quarter with 14 points, including a pair from deep, as he and Gasol traded baskets.
The Celtics kept this game from falling to pieces, losing with as much dignity as a 117-100 final score might allow.
Upcoming Game and Smart’s Return
Sunday, 11/23: vs. Portland
Monday-Thursday: practice time and Marcus Smart’s likely return from a sprained ankle
Sunday brings another brutal test: the Portland Trail Blazers.
Soon enough it will be December and the Celtics will see some daylight in the schedule.