Final, Grizzlies 93-83: It turns out Avery Bradley was not the answer. In the third-year guard’s season debut, the Celtics looked only marginally better defensively and no better offensively in falling to the crisp and intense Grizzlies.
Mike Conley guided a strong team effort on both ends with 23 points and nine assists, with only one turnover. He outdid Rajon Rondo, who finished with 11 points and 10 assists despite being limited by a a thigh injury.
Rudy Gay had 19 points and former Celtic Tony Allen had a surprise 15 as Memphis gave the Celtics a lesson in forceful, fundamental basketball. The Celtics got outrebounded 39-27. Paul Pierce scored 17 points, but had only five of those after the first quarter. Kevin Garnett had an off night offensively, shooting 5-for-14 from the field with three turnovers despite handing out five assists and hauling in seven rebounds.
Fourth quarter, 1:26, Grizzlies 88-78: Yeah, that last-ditch comeback ain’t happening.
The Celtics decided to go back to the low-percentage shots and bad offense that built their hole, rather than the movement that got them back into the game. Three free throws by Gasol and Gay pretty much sealed the deal and the Garden is emptying out quickly.
Fourth quarter, 2:56, Grizzlies 85-78: The Jet has some things to say about this one being over. Back-to-back threes by Terry pull the Celtics within five points, but the Celtics squandered their next two possessions with misses by Sullinger and an ill-advised three by Rondo.
The Grizzlies are still playing with more energy, but their shots have stopped falling.
Fourth quarter, 7:36, Grizzlies 81-71: Hope springs eternal when you’ve shelled out a couple hundred bucks for tickets and concessions, so these fans are trying their best to believe the Celtics have a comeback in them. The deficit is only 10, but it feels like a lot more than that. The Grizzlies are prone to dry spots offensively, though, so the Celtics look like they will give it a shot.
Fourth quarter, 8:50, Grizzlies 81-68: Maareese Speights is a nice offensive player. He has a decent midrange jumper, good hops and a distaste for passing the ball. But the Celtics have made him look like Bob McAdoo.
Speights scored the first two baskets of the fourth quarter to give him 10 for the game. He is one of five Grizzlies, and one of two Grizzlies bench players, in double figures. The other reserve is Arthur, who apparently thinks he is Chuck Person all of the sudden.
End of third quarter, Grizzlies 75-59: There was some hope that a home crowd would work the Celtics out of their holiday doldrums. If so, the TD Garden faithful have only 12 more minutes to coax their team to victory.
Conley and company continued to put on a clinic in the third quarter, outscoring the Celtics 25-18 and holding Boston without a three in five attempts. Nobody in a white uniform had more than one field goal in the quarter.
Third quarter, 2:57, Grizzlies 68-55: In order to score, the Celtics could start by shooting the ball, at least. The Grizzlies not only have dictated everything about this game, from pace to the boards, they have simply been more aggressive looking for their own shots. Apart from Rondo, Pierce and Bass, the rest of the Celtics almost have to be begged to shoot.
Third quarter, 6:36, Grizzlies 64-49: For those of you who remember the way the Spurs took the Celtics to school, well, this is a lot like that one.
Even with Bradley on the floor, the Grizzlies made the Celtics look silly on defense. The Celtics were flying around (and not in a good way), just trying to switch onto the nearest man and contest a shot, flailing by, wherever they could.
Allen, our old friend, slammed home the point by dunking in a miss as the Grizzlies took their largest lead of the game.
Halftime, Grizzlies 50-41: The bad team that surfaced for three games in California last week was missing in the first quarter, but it reappeared for the Celtics in the second quarter.
The Celtics clunked their way to 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting, committing three turnovers and getting outrebounded 12-6 in the process. The Grizzlies’ paint dominance was not going to be held down for long, and Memphis began to assert its dominance down low with 16 second-quarter points in the paint.
Bradley’s return got a lot of pub, but another player’s return to the Garden has had a much bigger impact thus far. Tony Allen, a defensive specialist for the Celtics from 2004 to 2010, gave the Celtics fits. Pierce cooled off after his scorching first quarter to finish the first half with a game-high 15 points while Rondo put up six points and four assists, with two turnovers.
It turned out to be Conley, rather than Gasol or Randolph, who did most of the damage in the lane. His 14 points and five assists led Memphis is both categories.
Second quarter, 3:27, Grizzlies 44-36: Somebody must have shrunk the rims while the Celtics were out west. From 7:18, when Arthur hit his second three, to 4:55, when Pierce drained a three from the wing, neither team scored a basket. The brickfest gave way to a flurry of scoring, with Wayne Ellington answering Pierce’s shot with a trey of his own and Conley dashing down the lane for a teardrop.
In nearly 19 minutes of action, the Grizzlies’ underrated point guard has 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting, five assists and zero turnovers.
Second quarter, 7:11, Grizzlies 39-33: Terry’s willingness to let loose despite poor results has nothing on Darrell Arthur. Despite entering the game a perfect 0-for-4 from deep all season, the 6-foot-9 forward has drilled both of his 3-point looks in this game. Someone should tell Arthur to read his own scouting report.
Second quarter, 8:36, Grizzlies 34-33: Terry insists that a few tough shooting performances will not make him unwilling to shoot, but it looks like he is thinking twice before pulling the trigger. Terry had a straightforward short jumper in the lane off a pick and roll, but he hesitated and passed it off. After the resulting 24-second violation, Garnett flicked his wrist at Terry with a message that did not need to be spoken: “Shoot it, Jet.”
End of first quarter, Celtics 26-25: Putting up 26 points and making 63 percent of your shots is not a small feat against the Grizzlies. Memphis is the league’s best team in defensive efficiency and is second in points against, so the Celtics’ offensive success in the first quarter was a statement.
The question is whether they can keep it up. Brandon Bass came off the bench to continue with the energy Pierce offered at the start. Bass made a couple of hustle plays, such as reading the Grizzlies’ pick and roll to pick off the pass and start a fastbreak that ended in an acrobatic layup by Lee.
First quarter, 2:11, Grizzlies 23-22: Paul Pierce must have gotten some needed home cooking. Coming off a putrid road trip, Pierce is humming thus far. The Celtics captain has hit four of his six shots, including a perfect 3-for-3 on 3-pointers, for 12 of the Celtics’ 22 points.
As soon as Bradley left the floor, his defensive value was shown in a way the Celtics would prefer it hadn’t been. Jason Terry immediately got beat backdoor by Mike Conley for a layup. So it goes.
First quarter, 7:22, Grizzlies 12-7: Bradley did not take long to remind the Celtics what they have been missing. He sneaked along the baseline to catch and pass from Rondo and score one of his patented reverse layups, but that was all the offense the Celtics mustered for almost the first three minutes.
The Grizzlies went ahead by as many as seven points before Rondo hit a layup at the 9:18 mark to give the Celtics their second basket of the game.
7:05 p.m.: Do not be surprised, or alarmed, if Bradley appears to have forgotten how to dribble. According to Rivers, it is only natural.
The hardest thing to do after a long layoff, the Celtics coach said during his pregame media availability, is getting back the dribbling touch against an opponent used to the speed of the game.
“At the guard position, it’s ballhandling,” Rivers said. “I always thought the defensive part, at least for me, that’s what I was, it was easy to do that. I just thought, all guards, you just have the fumbles. There’s no way you can practice at the pace that Tony Allen’s going to make you play. It’s just impossible. The intensity, the adrenaline, all that, you can’t mock.”
6:50 p.m.: Doc Rivers knew what everybody was wondering, so he got right to the point when he was asked who was starting for the Celtics.
“Rondo, Avery, and I’ll let you guys figure out the rest,” Rivers said.
As it turns out, Rajon Rondo, who was questionable with a bruised right thigh and hip, will play after all as Avery Bradley makes his 2012-13 season debut. As a result, the Celtics will have the closest thing they have had all season to the starting five Rivers penciled in during the summer.
Also, Fab Melo is back, but don’t expect to see him swatting any shots with the C’s soon.
The full list of projected starters appears below.
8 a.m. ET: In keeping with the theme of this season, the Celtics took one step forward while taking one step backward on Tuesday. Avery Bradley confirmed that he is good to go for the game against the Grizzlies, making his first appearance since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Philadelphia. But his fellow starting guard, Rajon Rondo, is questionable as he continues to nurse the bruised thigh and hip that have troubled him for the last two games.
As though losses to the powerhouse Clippers, upstart Warriors and awful Kings were not enough, the Celtics now take on one of the most flat-out solid squads in the game. The Grizzlies are a selfless group reminiscent of the 2004 Pistons, defending like demons and sharing the ball among a roster filled with very good players who fall just short of superstardom. Rudy Gay leads the team in scoring with 18.0 points per game, but Zach Randolph is Memphis’ true leader with averages of 17 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Randolph has 22 double-doubles in 28 games this season.
The Grizzlies do not do all their damage inside, though. They have a respected floor general in Mike Conley and a furious defender in Tony Allen, who is familiar to Celtics fans. All told, this is a rough matchup for a scuffling Celtics team at less than full strength.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Photo via Facebook/Avery Bradley