After losing three games in a row, Boston appear to have steadied the ship with successive victories. The most recent of these was a 121-112 win against the Knicks, in which Kyrie Irving flirted with a triple-double with 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
The win kept them right on the heels of the Raptors, who sit atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 41-17 record. Boston are just half a game back with a record of 42-19, and will expect to secure a 43rd victory for the season when they host Memphis on Monday.
Memphis have lost nine in a row after they were embarrassed 89-115 by the Heat. Both Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans sat out the game, leaving a desperately young Grizzlies lineup alone on the floor. They are now embroiled in an extraordinary battle for pole lottery position. Six separate teams have a league-low 18 wins, and none of them would be upset if that number stays below 20.
Three keys to the game
Contrasting needs - Boston want the number one seed. They have topped the standings in the east for much of the season, only recently having been overtaken by Toronto, and will be eager to get it back. In contrast, the Grizzlies desperately need a quality young player, and will want to put themselves in the best position possible to get it in the 2018 draft.
Boston’s newfound offense - The last three games have seen a whole new Celtics team. They have averaged just under 117 points per night in these matchups, a product partially of a slightly heightened pace of play, but more prominently by an extreme increase in offensive efficiency. Their past three games have yielded 115.7 points per 100 possessions, and if they go near replicating this against Memphis, they should have an easy victory.
The availability of Evans and Gasol - As the only two decent players on their roster, at least one of these two needs to play if Memphis are to have a chance. Evans is listed as unlikely with a rib injury, while star veteran Gasol is expected to return to the side. He will need to have a huge game if Memphis are to have a chance.
Matchup to watch
Al Horford vs Marc Gasol - Horford won’t start at the center position on Gasol - Daniel Theis will take on that responsibility, having moved to the starting lineup to replace the injured Aron Baynes. Theis won’t play big minutes though, leaving Horford to take Gasol for much of the game. The two are talented big men, able to score inside and outside, and both are excellent passers. Gasol averages 17.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 blocks this season, and Horford’s stats aren’t dissimilar. He is contributing 13.1 points per game, 8.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.2 blocks, and is shooting an impressive 43.6% from beyond the arc.
Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyrie Irving | SG - Jaylen Brown | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford | C - Daniel Theis
Memphis Grizzlies predicted starting lineup
PG - Dillon Brooks | SG - Jarell Martin | SF - Andrew Harrison | PF - JaMychal Green | C - Marc Gasol
Despite his side losing by nine points, Gasol was a thorn in the Celtics’ side when these teams met earlier in the season. He posted 30 points, including four 3-pointers, ten rebounds, two assists and three steals. In 15 career games against Boston, he averages 14.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and just over a steal a night.
Irving has been very efficient in eight career games against the Grizzlies. In these matchups, he averages 24.1 points on 52.9% shooting from the floor and 44.4% shooting from 3-point range. He also dishes out 5.0 assists and grabs 1.8 steals in these games.
Memphis have been given a 12-point head start in this game, reflective of the youthful lineup which they are opting for. Boston’s newfound offensive efficiency means they should be able to cover this line, even considering they may well have the luxury of resting their starters in the final quarter. Back the Celtics to cover this line.
The Grizzlies are no chance here. They don’t want to win, as evidenced by the resting of Gasol on Saturday, and though he is expected to return, it’s difficult to imagine he will be feeling particularly motivated to play his best basketball.
Irving, Horford and the rest of the Celtics will run rings around the young Grizzlies, and will have the game in the bag by the third quarter. They’ll cruise to a 109-94 victory.
The game will be broadcast locally on NBCSB and Fox Sports Southeast. Tip-off is at 7:30pm ET.