The Celtics (and Paul Pierce) will take their talents to Memphis tonight to take on the Grizzlies in the final game of a four-game road trip. The Grizzlies have dropped four of their last six and have started the season at 4-5, mostly thanks to the fact that they are near the bottom of the barrel in terms of defensive statistics.
Here’s what to watch as the Celtics try to follow up the big win over Miami Thursday with another strong effort tonight.
1) Talking defense: This will be a test for Boston’s D, because the Grizzlies are a strong offensive team. Memphis is averaging 104 points a game (eighth in the league), but they are not the most efficient offense (21st in that category). Instead, Memphis plays a fast-pace brand of ball and pushes up the court to create more possessions.
Now, normally that would not be good for an older Celtics team. But the C’s have actually played their best when they have been in transition, and Doc Rivers’ club has not been adverse to running with the opposition. While the Celtics will need to be wary of the Grizzlies’ myriad scoring options (from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph down low to Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo on the perimeter), this one could actually come down to whether Memphis decides to show up on the defensive end. Which brings me to…
2) TA: Celtics fans will get to see their first glimpse of old friend Tony Allen in Memphis colors tonight, but whether it is just in sweats or in uniform remains to be seen. That is because head coach (and former Portland Trail Blazers‘ great) Lionel Hollins has not given the former Boston guard consistent minutes, even making Allen a healthy scratch in two games last week.
TA was brought in to be the defensive stopper on a team of offensive stars, but for a team that is clearly not shutting down the opposition whatsoever Allen can only get 12 minutes a game. It’s been a tough start for him, but if he plays he can add something to this Memphis club.
3) Manning the middle: Memphis has some impressive big men in Gasol and Randolph, and this will be the toughest test the Celtics’ D has faced in the paint thus far this season. With Jermaine O’Neal out and Shaq limited, Kevin Garnett will really have to control the inside area if the Celtics want to stop Memphis from getting easy buckets.
Let’s not forget that good power forwards and big men (minus Chris Bosh) have shredded the Celtics at times this season. J.J. Hickson put up a gem of a game against Boston in the Cavs’ upset win, Andrew Bogut was great offensively despite playing with basically one arm, and Joakim Noah put up 26 points for the Bulls. But those teams didn’t have two strong options up front like Memphis. The Celtics can’t let the Grizzlies get easy baskets inside, and they have to wear them down on the other end of the court.