Jayson Tatum wins battle vs. Ja Morant as Celtics hold off Grizzlies: 7 takeaways

Jayson Tatum was spectacular, but Marcus Smart may have been even better.

Grizzlies guard Ja Morant goes for the ball in the second half. AP

The Celtics held off the Grizzlies down the stretch in a battle between offensive-minded teams on Monday, claiming a 109-106 victory.

Here are the takeaways, as the Celtics improved to 7-3 with their third straight win.

1. Jayson Tatum was spectacular, particularly in the second quarter when the Celtics outscored the Grizzlies 37-20 and put together a 20-0 run. Tatum pitched in 19 of his 39 points in the period, frequently turning to bark at hecklers sitting courtside at Memphis’ FedEx Forum. 

Last season, Tatum shot nine or more free throws just 13 times during the regular season, and he shot more than 15 just once — March 6 during his 54-point all-timer against Kevin Durant and the Nets. On Monday, he shot 12-for-16 at the line after attempting 20 in his 36-point outpouring against the Bulls. He has now topped nine free throws four times in 10 games to start the 2022-23 season.


The new evolution of Tatum’s game is really fun to watch. He’s cutting when he doesn’t have the ball to get easy layups and dunks. Those easy shots fuel confident, aggressive drives which earn trips to the free-throw line. He’s still demolishing opponents in the mid-post and burying 3-pointers, but the tougher shots are more supplementary and a little more under control. 

Meanwhile, on the defensive end, Tatum blocked two shots for the fifth time this season — both against Ja Morant. Defensively, he remains one of the team’s best 1-on-1 options when they need a stop down the stretch. 

2. Tatum also gave Celtics fans a heart attack in the fourth quarter when he got tangled up with Morant and went down holding his knee. Tatum stayed down for a nail-biting minute, and when he stood up, he wobbled to the free-throw line and missed both of his attempts. He stayed in the game, however, and was involved in a pair of defensive possessions before he made a pair of free throws in the final seconds. He was all smiles embracing Morant after the game. 

“He’s fine,” Joe Mazzulla told reporters after the game.


3. Marcus Smart might have had an even better game than Tatum. For the second night in a row, Smart was maestro-like as a distributor — passing out 12 assists. He now has 23 assists and two turnovers in the last two games. 

In the first quarter, Smart was also crucial as a scorer, keeping the Celtics attached as the Grizzlies jumped out to a 34-28 lead. Smart poured in 10 of his 15 points and dished out four of his assists — leaving him responsible for 18 of the Celtics’ points in the period, including their first 16 points of the game.

Smart also cited the courtside heckler as an inspiration.

“It kind of gave me a little bit more motivation to come out here and play the best basketball I can,” Smart told Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston after the game. “I was just taking the shots they were giving me, and I was just taking the looks with the passes they were giving me and finding my teammates.”

Smart also made a circus lefty shot midway through the fourth quarter for a crucial and-one that pushed the Celtics lead to eight. Smart stared at his left hand and informed it that it is a “bad motherf*****.”

“Everybody on the team will tell you they’d rather me go right than go left because my left hand for some reason is just as [good] as my right,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “So just constantly working on it and putting it to the test.”


4. Jaylen Brown really struggled for three quarters, shooting just 6-for-17 with five turnovers before the fourth, and he started the final period with a turnover as well.

But Brown settled in down the stretch and made a pair of tough layups, as well as two big free throws. The Celtics need him to shoot better and take better care of the ball, but he managed to play a role in salvaging the win. 

5. Grant Williams started in place of Derrick White and had one of the odder stat lines you might come across this season. He finished 0-for-0 from the floor, but he was +6 as a starter, and he made two crucial free throws in the final minute that helped the Celtics veer away from their late-game collapse. He also teamed up with Al Horford in the closing minutes to help slow Morant with bigger defenders, after the Grizzlies star brought the team back from the brink in the third quarter.

A reporter asked Mazzulla after the game if Williams had the most impactful zero-field goal performance he could remember.

“Yes,” Mazzulla said, pausing for effect. “Nah, he played well. They all played well. We said it in other games, I appreciate our bench’s humility, I appreciate our guys’ humility, but tonight, I felt like it called for [Williams to start], and I felt like he delivered.”

6. Morant was simply phenomenal — better even than his 30-point, nine-assist performance suggested. The Grizzlies won the third quarter 31-19 behind Morant’s explosion, which was highlighted by plays like this. 

Morant is also shooting a better percentage from 3-point range this season — 45.6 percent after he went 5-for-12 on Monday. If he becomes a consistent shooter from deep, the league is going to have its hands full. 


With players like Tatum and Morant wresting control of the spotlight, the NBA is in good hands.

7. The entire NBA will take Tuesday off as a reminder to vote in the midterm elections. The Celtics will play the Pistons at TD Garden on Wednesday — the first of two games against Detroit in the next five days.


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