The Celtics can't say they didn't see this one coming. Coach Doc Rivers highlighted every key aspect before Wednesday's game, then Boston went out and flopped on each account. Just check out what Rivers said pregame:
"We couldn't script a tougher game, in a good way -- for me anyway, maybe not for the players," said Rivers. "We have to get back to protecting the paint and they're No. 1 in paint points. We have to get back in transition [defense] and I think they're seventh in the league in fastbreak points. We have to get back to dominating on the boards, and I think they're fourth in that category. You couldn't pick a better team for us to play. All the things we have to get better at, they have. It's a good test for us."
Test failed. The Grizzlies dominated points in the paint (52-26), including a 16-3 advantage on second-chance points, and finished with a healthy edge on the glass (43-37). Sure, fastbreak points were a wash (8 apiece), but that was of little solace to the Celtics.
“I am surprised because the whole emphasis of today was they are one of the best, if not the best, in the league at points in the paint," said captain Paul Pierce. "The emphasis was to pack the paint, they aren’t a great 3-point shooting team, so there is no excuse for all that. We should have done a better job in there, make them kick it out and make them knock down a couple of jumpers.
"I thought overall, we played pretty good defense. We held them to what, 90 points? Especially Zach Randolph, he has been playing out of his mind. A lot of these guys have been playing well. I thought it was a pretty strong defensive game. Turnovers really hurt us. I though we missed a lot of easy looks that we usually make right there at the basket under the rim. It’s really hard to put my finger on one thing that cost us the game. It was hard fought and could have went either way, and it went their way tonight.”
The Celtics turned the ball over 20 times leading to 16 points for Memphis, but that was essentially negated as the Grizzlies coughed up the ball up 15 times for 13 points. As Pierce suggested, Boston's defense wasn't bad beyond the paint struggles, but an offense that shot just 42 percent (29 of 69) -- including a mere 34 percent for the starters -- highlighted Boston's recent struggles to light up the scoreboard.
"It’s something you get through," Rivers said of the offensive struggles. "But we’ve got to get through it.”
--CELTICS EXHIBIT UNCHARACTERISTIC LATE-GAME EXECUTION TROUBLES--
The Celtics pride themselves on being able to produce the clutch late-game basket. But in Wednesday's loss, Boston boasted three chances in the final 20 seconds to take the lead or tie, and three times the offense struggled to generate a quality shot.
After corralling a Zach Randolph miss in a one-point game with under 30 seconds to play, Rajon Rondo got the team running the other way. But the play fizzled and Rondo settled for a too-strong floater in the lane that wouldn't fall. An intentional foul made it a three-point game, but Boston uncharacteristically struggled to find a quality option out of a timeout and settled for the worst available option -- Glen Davis chucking an ill-advised 3-pointer with six ticks to go (it wasn't even close).
Marc Gasol missed two freebies at the other end, giving the Celtics improbable life. But even with a 3-point lineup on the floor, Boston couldn't get a clean look and Pierce's desperation heave over a pestering Tony Allen found front rim preserving Memphis' win.
“[Boston's execution] was awful," said Rivers. "I probably should have called a timeout [before Rondo's floater]. I honestly thought Rondo was going to hand it off to Paul in transition, and once I saw that I thought, ‘I’ll take that all day.’ But he didn’t and then went for the shot. And so it’s easy to second guess it now, you should have called a timeout. But I thought we had numbers and I thought we were going to get it to our best offensive player in transition and I’d take those odds all day.
"I always second-guess when things don’t work. And, no, Baby was not supposed to shoot the three."
For his part, Rondo shrugged and simply admitted he misfired on the floater. And he said he didn't see Pierce in transition, or most certainly would have gotten the ball to him.
Rivers went on to call for more touches for Pierce, suggesting Boston needs to do a better job of getting the ball in its best offensive player's hands more often.
"I just think your best offensive player should always touch it on the last possession," said Rivers. "And then if it comes back to a guy for a shot, I think that’s fine... We’ve got to get back to understanding, you know, Paul is pretty good. And he’s got to get more touches in games. And I think we go back and forth on movement and we want that, but we’ve also got to get Paul involved. That’s on me, I’ve got to get Paul involved more.”
--LAYUP LINE: POWE(R) MOVE; WAFER NOT CLOSE; EYES ON CHICAGO?--
* After watching old friend Leon Powe connect on 5-of-6 shots for 13 points off the bench for Memphis, Doc Rivers didn't mince words.
"Leon Powe was the baddest man on the planet tonight," said Rivers, who before the game admitted he was happy to see Powe back on the floor with the Grizzlies given all his injury woes.
Rivers also admitted that the Celtics pondered inking Powe after he was bought out in Cleveland, but given that injury history -- and an already frail front line with the absence of Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal -- Boston turned its attention instead to Troy Murphy.
"We looked at [Powe], but we just couldn't take the chance with the injuries we already had," said Rivers. "A tough situation for us."
* Von Wafer (strained right calf) continues to get up shots and engage in light basketball activities, but Rivers suggested he's "not close" to a return. Wafer has missed 10 games since suffering the leg injury against Golden State on Feb. 4.
* Rivers said you won't find the Celtics scoreboard watching, not even a night after the Bulls put a 33-point hurting on host Atlanta on the second night of a back-to-back.
"I don't bring [the East standings] up and I haven't heard one word from [the players]," said Rivers. "I'm sure they're aware, [the media] will make them aware, they have no choice. But I haven't mentioned it one time and I probably will not."
Rivers called Chicago's win in Atlanta "impressive," but said it didn't change anything about how Boston operates moving forward. The Bulls now boast a full game lead over Boston with 12 games to play.