LOCATION: TD Garden, Boston, MA
MEDIA: Fox Sports South, Soul Classics 103.5 FM
TICKETS: StubHub, TICKETMASTER
Memphis(39-32) is just one win away from matching last season’s win total with 11 games remaining but 40 wins won’t get the Grizzlies where they want to be at the end of the season. Currently sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference, a game and a game behind New Orleans for 7th, the Grizzlies face a tough stretch of games beginning in Boston tonight. The Grizzlies are playing inspired defense of late holding the Pacers and Jazz to 78 and 85 points respectively. However the Grizzlies have been struggling on the road suffering embarrassing losses to Miami and New York. The not so youthful anymore Grizzlies need to learn how to play as well on the road as they do at home to make the playoffs this season. This game is return home for GM Chris Wallace, Guard Tony Allen and Forward Leon Powe.
Boston (50-19) is setting themselves up for another run at an NBA title, their 3rd in 4 years since pairing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with Paul Pierce. Doc Rivers had to call out the Celtics athalftime however to remind them ofwhat they are competing for. It is not likely that the Celtics will come out passive against the Grizzlies. Boston is the best defensive team in the league this season surrendering under 91 pts a game. However the Celtics are not a great rebounding team (29th in the league). The Celtics rely on the Big Three of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for scoring with Rajon Rondo running the point about as well as anyone these days. Teh Celtics are 4-4 in their last 8 games but only one of those losses was at home.
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsRajon Rondo
Rondo i considered one of the fastest guards in the NBA and, at 25, shows no signs of slowing down. Rondo averages a double-double with 10.2 ppg and 11.5 apg, best in the NBA. Rondo is also 2nd in the league in steals averaging 2.3 spg. Rondo bounced back from some subpar performances against Houston, New Orleans and Indiana to post a double-double against the Knicks. Mike Conley is much improved from previous seasons and has risen his game to another new level since the all-star break. Since the All-Star break Conley is averaging 14.6 ppg, 6.7 apg, 1.6 spg and only 1.9 topg. He’s hitting 41% of his 3 pt attempts and 45.5% of his FG attempts. If Rondo dominates this matchup the Grizzlies will be hard pressed to win. If Conley outplays Rondo then the Grizzlies still have to win in other places.
Shooting Guards:Tony Allenvs Ray Allen
Ray Allen is a marvelous athlete. At 35Allen still has one of the fastest releases in the game and is aterror for defenders to stop.The good news isage may be catching up the Allen. Over the last 10 games Allen’s scoring has dropped to 15.9 ppg (compared to 17.2 ppg for the season) and hisFG percentage is lower as well (47.5% vs 49.8%). Thebad news is that Allen has still hit at least 2 threepointshots in 7 of his last9 games but was 0-4 against the Knicks. The Grizzlies have beensuspect defending against three point shooters all season. Tony Allen knows Ray Allen andis considered one of the best defenders in the game. In Allen’s last 10 games he’s averaging 13.1 ppg, 3.8rpg, 2.4 apg and 2.2 spg. In Allen’s first game against Boston he played a mere 21 minutes but still managed to score 11 pts andmake 3 steals.When Allen is motivated he is a monster and he most likely will be very motivated in this game.
Small Forwards:Sam Youngvs Paul Pierce
The Grizzlies are going to miss Rudy Gay in this matchup. Paul Pierce, 33, is still a dominant scorer who can take his man at will one on one. Pierce has been struggling of late averaging just 16.1 ppg on 46.2% shooting but that mostly because of two poor shooting games rather than a general trend. Sam Young is the fifth option on offense for the Grizzlies but has been efficient when given an opportunity. Young’s defense is improving daily but he is still not an elite defender.
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsKevin Garnett
KG has sacrificed his individual numbers more than anyone else on the Celtics but his leadership of the team is unquestioned. Garnett is still scoring 15 ppg and grabbing 9 rebounds but his career averages are 19.6 ppg and 10.8 rpg. Garnett is turning 35 this May too so old age could be a factor. Zach Randolph is putting up all NBA types of numbers this season. Not only is he averaging 20.1 ppg and 12.6 rpg (3rd in the league) but he’s passing the ball better than he ever has and playing defense. Most importantly Z-Bo is shooting 49% from the field this season. That efficiency has made him a leader in the league in many statistical evaluations of players. Randolph usually struggles against stong, lean and tall PFs but he had the advantage in the first matchup of the season andZ-Bo is playing better now.
Centers:Marc Gasolvs Nenad Kristic
Kristic has struggled containing Gasol for the last two years but maybe Nenad isn’t so soft anymore now that he is playing in Boston. Boston would like a more physical presence in the middle but hasn’t struggled that much with Kristic. Gasol hasn’t really done superbly against Kristic (9.3 ppg and 7.3 rpg) but he has been big when needed. Gasol has also contained Kristic holding him to 6.3 ppg and 6.0 rpg. That is a major reason Memphis won the season series against OKC.
Boston made a big move this season to strengthen their bench when the traded for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic giving up Kendrick Perkins in the process. Now the Celtics are relying on Glen “Bib Baby” Davis, Jeff Green and Delonte West to hold the fort with some help from Troy Murphy and Carlos Arroyo. All of these players are big names but not many can still play. Memphis’ bench has some vets (Battier and JWill), some youth (Arthur, Vasquez, Smith, Mayo and Haddadi), some scoring and some defense. Memphis’ bench was hurt by the loss of Rudy Gay but Boston’s bench has lost Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels and Delonte West for significant points in the season.