We’ve heard all season that rim protection is the primary weakness of this year’s edition of the Boston Celtics.
That their frontcourt of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, while perhaps a better-shooting duo than most, just does not possess the size and physical tools to defend in the paint.
That fact was painfully obvious Friday night.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — arguably the NBA’s top four-five tandem — teamed with unheralded bench big Jon Leuer to lead a Memphis Grizzlies attack that the Celtics simply had no answer for.
Gasol led all scorers with 32 points, Randolph turned in his ninth double-double of the season (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Leuer, a fourth-year Wisconsin product, poured in a season-high 19 points, seven boards and four assists in 22 minutes.
All told, the trio combined to score 67 of Memphis’ points on 28-of-47 shooting in a 117-100 Grizzlies win.
“The front line just — they smoked us,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game. “… Hard to win when those guys go like that.”
Memphis got to the rim at will throughout the contest, outscoring Boston 66-38 in the paint, and won the rebounding battle by a wide margin (50-38). The result was the second-highest points total of the season season for a Grizzlies squad that averages just 97.9 per game.
And it all started with the man in the middle.
“Gasol was huge,” Stevens said. “I thought he was the best player on the floor. He just kept making plays over and over, both with the pass and the shot. He gets that ball in the high post, and you have to pay (point guard Mike) Conley attention off those screens because he’s shooting the ball so well and scoring it so well — he’s got that beautiful right-hand floater. Then, Gasol gets with a little bit of time and space, and it’s a killer. It’s a hard team to guard. And Gasol’s passing makes him really special at the five.”
It’s no great shocker that a team with the Celtics’ weaknesses was dominated by a roster perfectly designed to exploit them. But Stevens hopes that playing against some of the NBA’s elite — Memphis improved its league-leading record to 11-2 with the win — at least allowed his players to take in a few pointers.
“I told our guys in (the locker room), I said: I realize we’re all pros. We all have made it. We’re all good players. But there’s some guys out on the floor on that team that we can learn a lot from,” the coach said. “And especially our young bigs — it would be great to take notes of those guys.”
One of those young bigs seemed open to the idea.
“You can learn a lot by watching people play,” said Olynyk, who led all Celtics scorers with 18 points in the loss. “When you’re younger, that’s all you do is watch people play. Watch guys on TV, try to do what they do. Who says you can’t do that now?”
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