The Celtics rolled to a 122-107 win over the Grizzlies in Orlando on Tuesday, their fourth in a row. Jayson Tatum was 10 for 13 from the field and 4 for 5 on 3-pointers, finishing with a game-high 29 points.
The Celtics led by as many as 22 points before the Grizzlies gradually clawed back. Memphis pulled within 88-78 on a 3-point play by Brandon Clarke with 10:24 left. But Grant Williams and Brad Wanamaker hit consecutive 3-pointers to help Boston extend its lead, and it was never really in danger after that.
The Celtics face the Wizards on Thursday in the final seeding game for both teams.
Observations from the game:
▪ Tatum has had some quiet starts in Orlando, so it probably felt good when he opened the game with a 3-pointer. Oddly, he didn’t get a chance to warm up after that shot, as his next one came in the final minute of the period. But that attempt was good, as were plenty afterward. In the first half he had a dazzling finger roll, a one-legged baseline jumper, and some tough step-backs and fadeaways. During the season he often had his best games in low-stress situations, and this would fit that bill.
▪ Tatum was involved in a bit of a scare in the first half. With Jonas Valanciunas guarding him on the perimeter he lulled the big man to sleep with a few crossovers before firing up a step-back 3-pointer. Valanciunas closed into Tatum’s landing space, though, and Tatum twisted his left ankle when he came down. He winced in pain but was ultimately fine. Valanciunas was called for a flagrant foul. The Celtics are locked into the No. 3 seed, and they’ve been fully healthy in Orlando. Their biggest wish now is to stay that way. Look for plenty of stars to rest against Washington.
▪ Grant Williams has been used sparingly recently, but he was an early first-quarter sub on Tuesday. He was part of the Celtics’ best sequence. As Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant drove to the hoop, Williams slid over and swatted his shot, igniting a fast break. Kemba Walker then had a nice dish to Gordon Hayward, who threw down a two-handed dunk over Grizzlies center Gorgui Dieng.
▪ Enes Kanter reclaimed his role as the first big man off the bench instead of Robert Williams, but that was probably just to match up against Valanciunas. Kanter’s strength was apparent on one offensive rebound, when he outmuscled three Grizzlies for a putback. Williams continued to shine at both ends, with 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
▪ Coach Brad Stevens had tightened his rotation a bit recently but went 10-deep in the first half.
▪ This game will have some implications beyond the bubble, of course. The Celtics will get the Grizzlies’ first-round draft pick this year as long as it falls outside the top six, in which case Boston would get the unprotected choice next season. Yes, the Grizzlies could be better next year, but members of the Celtics organization have told me they’d prefer to see the pick roll into next year, mostly to get the unprotected roulette spin.
▪ -Memphis opened the restart comfortably in eighth place in the West, but it has wilted in Orlando, with just a 1-6 record with one game left. The Blazers, Suns, and Spurs are in a virtual tie for the 8/9 playoff. The Grizzlies’ final seeding game is against the Bucks. The Celtics figure to be Milwaukee’s top competition in the East for years to come. It would seem to make sense for the Bucks to, um, rest a few guys for that Memphis game.
▪ Walker had an efficient offensive night, tallying 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, along with three assists and one turnover. He played just 28 minutes because this game did not require more, and it appears likely that he’ll sit out against the Wizards. But the Celtics have to feel good about where Walker stands. They were cautious with his left knee at the start and gradually ramped things up with no issues.
“It’s getting there, man,” Walker said. “Today is probably the best I’ve felt out there. I was really comfortable making my moves and stuff like that. It was good to make that move and see the ball go in as well.”
▪ The Celtics average 22.9 assists per game this season but that figure has vaulted to 29.3 during this four-game winning streak. It might be because defenses have eased up just slightly in games that haven’t always been meaningful, but the ball has been popping.
“I’ve seen a great willingness and great enthusiasm from our team to really move it,” Stevens said. “So we’ve just got to keep it up.”
▪ Jaylen Brown had his quietest offensive night since the restart. The forward was just 3 for 13 from the field and 1 for 8 on 3-pointers. He’s 10 for 29 over his last two games.
▪ Celtics play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman said during Tuesday’s game that his longtime broadcast partner, Tommy Heinsohn, is dealing with some health issues. Gorman said he spent about an hour with the Hall of Famer on Tuesday, and that when he asked about his health, Heinsohn just wanted to talk about the Orlando officiating. Get well soon, Tommy.