MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A great first quarter and a solid burst to start the fourth kept the Boston Celtics from back-to-back embarrassments, coming away with a 102-93 victory over the struggling, but still scrappy, Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night at FedEx Forum.
Al Horford and Terry Rozier sparked a 16-0 run at the start of the fourth as the Celtics erased a 73-71 Memphis lead built largely on a third-quarter explosion from Marc Gasol, who had 21 of his game-high 30 points during the stretch.
“It felt good. We got some stops on the defensive end, but we were moving the ball around well and getting good looks,” said Horford, who had the first two buckets in the final period after a key make late in the third. “We had a lot of good energy in the first quarter. They made their run in the second and Gasol got hot in the third but we stayed composed.”
Memphis interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the Celtics’ burst in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter — while Gasol was on the bench for a rest — was the difference.
“When you play a team like this with guys that can shoot and create the way they can, they make you pay for mistakes. And you’ve got to give them credit. They created a lot of those mistakes.”
Kyrie Irving led Boston with 20 points, rookie Jayson Tatum had 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Horford had 15 points and seven boards, Aron Baynes had 13 points and six rebounds while Marcus Smart scored 11 and Rozier added 10 points off the bench.
Tyreke Evans, a game-time decision with a sore hip, added 25 to the Memphis effort, 15 in the second quarter when Memphis closed the gap to 48-40 thanks to a unit largely filled by spot players Jarrell Martin, James Ennis and Kobi Simmons, one of Memphis’ two-way contract players.
The Celtics, after an embarrassing 12-point home loss to Utah the night before, came out strong against the free-falling Grizzlies in the first quarter, building a 31-12 lead thanks to balanced scoring and stifling defense, as Memphis hit just 4 of 18 shots from the field.
“I thought we played pretty well in the first half,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “Our second quarter wasn’t very good again. I thought we did a better job with everyone in the second half. Obviously Marc Gasol got going. You’re going to take a team’s shot like that but you have to weather that storm and stay (the) course. The guys did a nice job of that tonight.”
Then Boston tried to give its starters an extended second-quarter break, and a Grizzlies’ second unit that included two-way contract guard Kobi Simmons started getting a little room and making some shots.
Evans went scoreless to start the game, but had 15 second-quarter points, including three 3-pointers and rookie Dillon Brooks, who scored 14 points, chipped in another three as Memphis closed to within five points, 42-37.
The Celtics upped the lead to eight before the break, 48-40. But Gasol, who had just seven points on 3-of-7 shooting in the half, would hit eight of his next 10 shots, four from distance, including the 26-footer that put the Grizzlies on top, 73-71, going into the final 12 minutes.
On taking out Gasol to start the fourth,” Bickerstaff said. “He was rolling but when you run 12 minutes at that pace and with the way he was playing it just felt like we needed to give him a couple of minutes to catch his breath.”
Stevens was the one breathing easier. “He only hit four threes in the third quarter — I thought it was 15. What stopped him? He came out for a water break, and I was praying there would be no dead ball any time soon.”
NOTES: The Grizzlies were without PG Mike Conley (Achilles), F-C Brandan Wright (groin), G-F Wayne Selden (quad) and F Chandler Parsons (rest). Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said there’s still no timetable on Conley, but added he expects to get a couple of his missing players back sometime during the coming week. ... Boston rookie F Daniel Theis, who suffered a broken nose in Friday’s loss to Utah, gave it a go Saturday wearing a protective face mask and wound up with five points. ... F Marcus Morris, who has missed four games with a sore left knee, said Friday he is hoping to be back in time for the Celtics’ Christmas Day game with Washington.