Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
THE NITTY GRITTY
Memphis point guard Mike Conley scored a game-high 23 points to go along with nine assists while spoiling the return of Avery Bradley. Rudy Gay added 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, while old friend Tony Allen kicked in 15 points, five rebounds and his typical brand of harassing defense for the Grizzlies. Paul Pierce scored a team-high 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting for the Celtics, while Rajon Rondo battled through a hip bruise to chip in 11 points and 10 assists. Kevin Garnett was simply off, going 5-of-14 from the field for 12 points and finishing a team-worst minus-15 overall.
It was a two-possession game in the final minute of the first half, but the Celtics came unglued for about 48 seconds and it only snowballed after the intermission. Allen (off a KG turnover) and Conley (off a Pierce blocked shot) produced back-to-back layups, then Boston botched a final shot opportunity and found itself down 50-41 at the intermission. A pair of 3-pointers from Gay and Conley pushed the lead up to 15 midway through the third quarter and it went as high as 18 at the start of the fourth quarter.
C's MAKE A SPIRITED CHARGE
Boston (finally) showed it wouldn't go away without a fight. The Celtics chipped away and back-to-back 3-pointers from Jason Terry got their deficit to five (83-78) with 4:52 to play. With the lead at 7, Garnett missed two free throws with under three minutes to go, essentially sapping the comeback effort.
It took Bradley a mere 60 seconds to register his first basket of the 2012-13 season, as he completed a reverse layup off a feed from Rondo. It was the only one of four first-half shots he connected on and his defense was about what you'd expect for a player coming off a seven-month absence. Bradley sat for an 18-minute stretch before playing the final 70 seconds and finished with four points on 2-of-6 shooting with a steal over 19:31. He was minus-12, highlighting Boston's first-unit struggles.
BUMPS AND BRUISES
Pierce appeared to tweak his neck/shoulder midway through the first quarter, but the Celtics called timeout and he stayed in the game. Pierce carried Boston's first-half offense, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting while making all four 3-pointers he hoisted. ... Brandon Bass endured a bloody lip/nose after getting whacked by Allen and retreated to the locker room for a brief stint in the second quarter.
SECOND LINEUP IN FULL
Bradley's return allowed Rivers, for the first time this season, to run with an honest-to-goodness full second-unit lineup, which featured Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger. The Celtics got 32 points from the bench and Sullinger might have been the biggest contributor (despite the lowest point output), spending extended time with the first unit during the comeback.
ARTHUR FOR 3 ... TWICE?!
Memphis forward Darrell Arthur entered Wednesday's game 0-for-his NBA career on 3-point field goals (13 attempts) over three-plus seasons. But he improbably splashed a pair of second-quarter triples to help the Grizzlies build their lead. He missed his third attempt at a trifecta, but still kicked in 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics dropped their fourth straight after falling victim to uninspired play over the middle frames. Boston put together a spirited fourth-quarter charge, but an 18-point deficit was simply too much to overcome. The Celtics get a day off before hosting the Indiana Pacers on Friday night at TD Garden.