Celtics-Grizzlies preview: Trying to reverse some disturbing trends

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When it comes to losing games, Brad Stevens has been consistent in not sounding the alarm of concern too loud.

But after Celtics' home loss to Utah on Friday night, there was a different sense of urgency in his words. 

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Stevens is far from panicking right now.

Still, he made it pretty clear that there are some disturbing trends he’s seeing with his team, the kind they need to avoid tonight as they hit the road to play Memphis.

Following the 107-95 loss to the Jazz on Friday, Stevens needed just 30 seconds to get into how Utah played harder than the Celtics.

“The bottom line is you have to be locked in. You have to play well,” Stevens said. “You have to do what you do best. We had a lot of guys that really didn’t play well [against Utah].”

Other than Al Horford (21 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (33 points, six assists) you would be hard-pressed to find any other Celtics players who performed at or above their usual level.

And on most nights, that’s a recipe for defeat.

Better effort and focus should be enough for Boston to defeat Memphis (9-20), which is coming off a win at Atlanta Friday night.

That, and the fact that the Grizzlies have a league-worst 3-9 home record this season.

Like many teams that are struggling this season, Memphis has been hit pretty hard by injuries with none looming larger than the Mike Conley’s Achilles injury.

Of course, they still have Marc Gasol, but the veteran big man isn’t nearly as dominant or efficient as we’ve seen him in past seasons.

And as the losses mount, rumors will only intensify about him possibly being traded (the Grizzlies have consistently denied this is part of their thinking) or that he may ask to be moved to a better team.

"I have a responsibility to this city," Gasol recently told ESPN.com. "I'm not gonna quit, no matter what."

He added, “As long as [Grizzlies owner] Robert [Pera] wants me here, my teammates want me here, they think I'm part of the solution -- and not part of the problem -- that's all I need." 

Memphis’ overall struggles played a factor in the team’s decision to fire second-year coach David Fizdale after a 7-12 start. Since his firing, Memphis has lost eight of its past 10.

The Grizzlies clearly have their share of problems this season.

So do the Celtics, despite their gaudy 24-7 record, which is tops in the Eastern Conference.

Boston has lost three of its past five games, rookie Jayson Tatum has been a breath of fresh air offensively but now finds himself in the middle of his worst three-game scoring funk of the season; Marcus Smart’s impact defensively hasn’t been able to mask his scoring struggles in recent games; and the bench continues to struggle to make an impact consistently.

Beyond those issues, the biggest concern for the Celtics has to be the lack of overall effort and fight we’ve seen – or rather not seen – in recent games.

“We got outcoached, we got outplayed, and we haven’t been in that situation very often as far as, like, from an effort standpoint,” Stevens said. “But I think twice this week we have, so that’s concerning.”

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