Grizzlies bite Celtics, 110-106

Grizzlies bite Celtics, 110-106
March 23, 2013, 10:15 pm
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Boston Celtics were done, down 21 points in the fourth quarter with about seven minutes to play.

So Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers did what any coach would do - he emptied the bench.

And in a matter of minutes, the Celtics' seemingly unsurmountable hole was just a mere bump that could be toppled with just a couple of defensive stops and timely shots in the final minute or so of play.

Despite an impressive 29-12 run to end the game by Boston, the Celtics couldn't get that one last big play to pull out an improbable victory as the Grizzlies came through with a slew of clutch free throws in the final seconds to hold on for a 110-106 win.

It was Boston's fourth straight loss, but clearly one of the more feel-good games this team has had recently.

The comeback was fueled in large part by end-of-the-bench guys like Jordan Crawford and Terrence Williams and D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph.

Boston will certainly look at their play in the fourth as something to build on going forward.

No matter what kind of positive vibes the C's will take from the loss, it is still that ... a loss.

And with it, the Celtics have dropped four in a row which is making their chances of improving upon their current playoff position even tougher with the games coming up just as tough and against teams just as hungry.

One of the big concerns for Boston coming into Saturday's game was how they would handle the Grizzlies and their massive frontline.

The C's seemingly caught a break with starting center Marc Gasol out with an abdominal injury.

But the Celtics had their own injury issues to worry about.

Boston was without Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee due to left ankle injuries.

And while there's no way of knowing if their play would have been the difference between the Celtics snapping their losing skid, their presence would have certainly helped.

It was a game that for the most part was dominated by Memphis shooting an unusually high percentage from 3-point range.

They came into the game ranked 20th in the NBA in field goal percentage (.443), but spent the bulk of Saturday's game shooting around the 50 percent mark.

Boston seemed to have found its stride early in the third quarter after a Paul Pierce 3-pointer cut Memphis' lead to 68-62.

Defended by former Celtic Tony Allen, Pierce started a little trash talking, too.

"You on defense! You on defense!" was what Pierce yelled in Allen's direction after Pierce's third, 3-pointer of the game.

Allen didn't say anything, but instead did what Allen has done throughout his career and that is let his play speak for him.

Following Pierce's 3-pointer, Memphis went on a 7-0 run capped off by a 3-pointer from the hot hand of the night, Jerryd Bayless.

And within minutes, Memphis was back ahead by double figures and took a comfortable 85-73 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Celtics needing to fight back from such a deep ditch was in stark contrast to how the game began.

Boston got off to a surprisingly strong start, scoring 10 of the game's first 12 points.

But the Grizzlies soon got back into the game by using their significant size advantage - even greater with Kevin Garnett out because of a foot injury - for a slew of offensive rebounds and put-back baskets.

A three-point play by Darrell Arthur cut Boston's lead to 18-17, but the C's countered by scoring six of the game's next eight points to lead, 24-19 after a lay-up by Chris Wilcox.

Both teams went back and fourth in the quarter exchanging one bucket for another, a surprising sequence considering these are two of the NBA's top scoring defenses.

Memphis came into the game giving up an NBA-low 89.2 points per game while the Celtics rank 7th in allowing opponents to score 95.8 points per game.

Boston had a 31-29 lead after the first quarter, but they had no reason to feel good about their play.

The C's have proven they can win in high scoring games, but they are at their best in low-scoring affairs.

Boston has an impressive 17-2 record this season when holding opponents to 89 points or less.

At the rate that Saturday's game was going, Memphis was going to hit that scoring mark by halftime.

Leading the offensive fireworks for Memphis was Jerryd Bayless, whose hot hand only highlighted how important not having Courtney Lee (left ankle sprain) was to the C's defense.

Averaging 7.7 points per game this season, Bayless had 20 points by the half which ended with Memphis ahead 61-51.

Former Celtic Tony Allen was also an important cog in Memphis' success against the C's, especially in the second quarter when he was guarding Pierce.

Pierce had 13 points in the first half, all of which came in the first quarter when Allen was not defending him.

Saturday's struggles continued the latest trend of bad, erratic and inconsistent play defensively by the Celtics.

Not having Lee or Kevin Garnett (both out with left ankle injuries) available was indeed a blow to the C's overall play defensively.

But the problems that have sprouted up lately have been issues even when those guys were in the lineup.

So as the C's went into the locker room at the half, there had to be a sense among them that they were in running-in-the-mud-mode with the problems against the Grizzlies bringing their ability to run - a problem in the three previous games, all losses - to a standstill.

Setting a tone defensively to start the third quarter had to become more than just a goal; but an absolute necessity for the Celtics to get back in the game and give themselves a chance to win.