Though Marcus Smart watched Sunday night’s game from the sideline in street clothes as he nurses a foot sprain that will keep him out for three to five weeks, it was only fitting that the first meeting between Smart’s former and current team finished with chaos -- an embodiment of Smart himself.
It was Kristaps Porzingis, whom the Celtics acquired in the trade that sent Smart to Memphis, who won the game for the Celtics, scoring the last four points in regulation, including a go-ahead dunk with 1:01 remaining and a rejection of Ziaire Williams' attempt to tie the game at the buzzer.
Porzingis finished the night with a team-high 26 points on 9-of-13 (69.2%) shooting, eight rebounds, an assist, and a season-high six blocks, as the 7-foot-3 big man took advantage of mismatches down low all night long, shooting 9-of-10 from inside the arc.
Desmond Bane (30 points, eight assists) and Santi Aldama (career-high 28 points and 12 boards) led the way for the shorthanded Grizzlies, who were physical and fought to the end.
With the win, the Celtics have defeated the Grizzlies in 14 of their last 15 meetings, including five straight.
Here are three takeaways as the Celtics improve their win streak to an NBA-best six games and advance to 11-2 on the season.
Weren’t at their best
The Celtics got a bit lucky on Sunday night, something Joe Mazzulla acknowledged after the game.
“We got lucky to win that game,” the bench boss said postgame. “I didn’t think we deserved to win the game because of a lot of the stuff we did.”
For the second consecutive game, the Celtics weren’t really at their best. The C’s finished the night with 17 turnovers, tying a season-high. Eight of Boston’s 17 turnovers came by way of offensive fouls, which impacted the flow of the game and hurt the Celtics.
Memphis also snagged 14 offensive rebounds, resulting in 21 second-chance points.
The Celtics got away from that “mindset” that has been crucial to their success this season, lacking focus, discipline, and struggling to execute – All possibility a result of not taking their opponent seriously enough.
The shorthanded Grillizes outplayed Boston a vast majority of the night, but Boston’s talent was just too much for Memphis to overcome.
Bench minutes remain a positive
After struggling to find production early on in the season, the Celtics bench has been tremendous recently.
The improved bench play has been spearheaded by Sam Hauser, who was terrific again on Sunday night.
Memphis, who entered the night with the worst perimeter defense in the league, did a great job taking the perimeter away from the Celtics on Sunday night. Boston finished the first half shooting just 4-of-14 from deep, with all of Boston’s makes from beyond the arc coming from Hauser, who shot 4-of-5 (80%) from deep in the first half.
The Celtics finished with just 12 made threes on Sunday night, tied for their second-fewest this season. Five of those 12 (41.6%) came from Hauser, who finished with 15 points on 5-of-7 (71.4%) shooting from beyond the arc and a game-high +17 plus-minus in the win.
Hauser is now shooting 35-of-65 (53.8%) from deep in his last 10 games and was a big factor in the win.
Boston’s bench unit especially impressed in the second quarter, sparking a 7-0 run to open the second frame with a Payton Pritchard stepback, Hauser three, and then Pritchard finding Al Horford on a mismatch in the pick and roll, resulting in an easy two for Horford. Boston’s bench accounted for all their second-quarter points up until midway through the frame.
The Celtics’ bench outscored the Grizzlies’ bench 27-21 on the night.
Closing ‘em out
Arguably the most impressive development of the new-look Celtics has been their ability to win games in the clutch.
Although it was far from aesthetically pleasing, the Celtics earned yet another clutch victory on Sunday night, advancing to 5-2 in clutch games this season.
Sunday night was easily a game the Celtics could have lost. Frankly, it’s a game they should have lost. The C’s were outshot, nearly doubled Memphis’ turnovers, and got killed on the offensive glass.
Though most of Boston’s fourth-quarter closeouts this season have been a result of executing at a high level down the stretch, this game was different. Boston was able to close this one out solely because of their talent.
Regardless, a win is a win, and the clutch closeout is an encouraging sign because this felt like a game the Celtics would lose a season ago. Besides, sometimes you have to be lucky to be good.