Turnovers and a lack of rebounding plagued the game as the Celtics stepped into the time machine, relapsing on all of the mistakes that have hounded them in past years.
Through the first few games of the season, Boston had seemingly overcome their recent trends. But against the Grizzlies, all the old problems came flooding back at once, falling under the same umbrella of the “playing down to your competition” mantra.
“I don’t think we were taking them lightly. I think we were just– maybe a little bit of a lack of focus in some situations,” said Kristaps Porzingis. “They played hard. They played really hard. And they came to win. I think it was just a bit of discipline (problems), a little bit. Maybe we have that feeling that we’re going to win anyway, you know?”
Porzingis led the way for Boston with a team-high 26 points and an impressive six blocks, including the game-winning rejection, but in the span of a few sentences, he completely contradicted his own statements.
In the process of “not taking the Grizzlies lightly,” the Celtics also managed to run into discipline issues because they thought they would just win the game easily? Doesn’t the latter sentiment describe the opposite of his first?
Boston ended the night with an abhorrent 17 turnovers, eight of which came in the form of offensive fouls. Both teams were upset with the officiating, but on the side of the Celtics, it led to sloppy execution.
The Grizzlies also corralled 14 offensive boards, many of which were a direct result of the Celtics’ lack of focus. Too often were Memphis players able to soar in from the three-point line for easy put-backs.
“Credit to the Grizzlies for the way they played,” said Mazzulla. “I thought they just outplayed us at times.”
The offensive fouls, turnovers, and poor defensive rebounding led the Grizzlies to attempt 95 shots to the Celtics’ 77–a whopping 18-shot differential.
Inconsistent effort led to rushed offense and silly decisions, too, as the Celtics’ over-relaxed playstyle felt riffed rather than connected, and this came to fruition with a near-disastrous final play by Jrue Holiday.
The Celtics snagged an offensive rebound late in the fourth, and with roughly a one-second difference between the shot clock and game clock, Holiday cut to the rim, received a pass from Jayson Tatum, and missed the dunk that would have put the Celtics up by four.
“At the end of the game there, you either have to make the layup, or you have to get fouled. That’s just how it is,” Mazzulla said. “So, you either got to make it, or you dribble the clock out, get fouled, and make your free throws, and the game’s over.”
Holiday’s slip-up led to a wide-open three for Santi Aldama, who absolutely torched the Celtics for 28 points on 6-of-15 shooting from deep. Aldama missed, and Porzingis was able to close things out with a game-saving block, but Boston was one very-makeable shot away from losing.
Prior to the missed layup, however, Boston’s rough outing was highlighted by a Tatum post-up that led to a Porzingis cut for a dunk–the final bucket of the night. Rather than following the pattern of the rest of the night and entering an ill-advised offensive set without any real drive, Tatum and the Celtics slowed it down, got the matchup they wanted, and went to work.
That’s the difference between this year’s team and those of prior seasons. Past Boston squads would have gone out in a blaze of hero-ball glory where this group managed to eke out a victory.
That said, the trends that reappeared in the Celtics’ win over the Grizzlies should be a warning sign moving forward.
“You can learn from losses. You can learn from wins. Sometimes, you’re okay with a loss because you did some right things, and sometimes you’re pissed because you didn’t deserve to win,” Mazzulla said. “And I didn’t think we deserved to win the game because of a lot of the stuff we did.”