The spread on this contest favored the Utah Jazz -8 over the Boston Celtics. Given the Cs’ lack of Kyrie, Uncle Al Horford and Marcus Morris—and the Jazz’s fiery 2018 overall—that’s an understandable number, but OK THIS IS GODDAMN WAR, GORDON MUNSON, AND WE AIN’T NEVER SCARED YOU AIN’T EVER THERE.
OK, OK, seriously: The Jazz are a very good team and at times looked quite superior to the Celtics. But the latter took every opening the former gave them when it counted the most, which was Utah’s undoing. Jayson Tatum did a lot of hard work early, Terry Rozier eroded the Utah lead late and Jaylen Brown hit the game-winner for the 97-94 victory.
THE GAME FLOW
As befitting a death match between the two top defenses in the NBA, this game moved slow and low during the course of many possessions, especially at the start—though by comparison to Jazz teams of old, this Utah squad moves at warp speed. The home team had a notable advantage in terms of forcing the Celtics’ offense into poor herky-jerky formations that led to bad shots.
On their offensive end, Rudy Gobert in the post and Ricky Rubio all over the non-painted area as a facilitator provided Utah with all the oomph they needed early on. Gobert’s primary impact, of course, is as one of this game’s most brutal shot blockers (not to mention one of the league’s itchiest Twitter fingers), and he showcased that on two early occasions including one brutal denial of poor Shane Larkin.
It should be noted that the Celtics did reasonably well on the defensive side of the floor. Particularly during one minutes-long stretch of Q1 they managed to cause a bunch of turnovers and sloppy passes. But they had so little going for them on offense that Utah’s success with fundamentals was all they really needed to end the first frame with a six-point lead (24-18).
Tatum served as the primary shooter among the starters, mostly because he…was clearly the best offensively equipped starter on a lineup including Aron Baynes and Guerschon Yabusele. Yet it was the Cs’ bench that engineered a bit of a run for our heroes in the second quarter and got this game into some neck-and-neck territory. Larkin, Greg “MOOSE FROM GREG” Monroe and, shockingly, the much-maligned Abdel Nader provided real lift that built up into a 15-4 run and gave the Celtics their first real lead since the game’s opening three minutes. Jaylen Brown, who’s had some offensive struggles since coming back, hit two perfect threes including a contested F-you make against Donovanmitchellwhoshouldplaytenorsax.
When the stretch run toward halftime turned back into a defensive grudgefight and the Celtics got the upper hand, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but given how shorthanded Boston was, surprise was all I could feel. You will not be surprised to know they were also shooting 63 percent during Q2, 75 percent from three, but hamstringing Mitchell and Gobert (just five and six points, respectively) dealt Utah a huge blow. While the Jazz roster is well-rounded, Joe Ingles (aka Joeinglesunderacoolibahtree) being the best offensive option is not a feasible winning strategy. Boston also held back the Utah bench—7 points total in the first half (and halfway into the second).
The Celtics retained that defensive aggressiveness as the third quarter began even when Mitchell got a lot more aggressive, adding 10 points in four minutes as opposed to the five he scored in the game’s first 24. But the Jazz weren’t about to be terribly scared at home, and ground their way back into a tie that became a retaken lead thanks to onetime Celtic hero Jae Crowder on a stepback three. All of this after a series of Boston miscues and misses (and one complete bulls**t offensive foul call against Semi Ojeleye, but whatever; this was no one’s fault but the Cs). This turned into a demoralizing Jazz run with the home squad turning the Vivint Center into a brutal slow-paced gauntlet. And while the Utah bench wasn’t scoring much as a whole, Crowder did plenty on his own.
Only in the last three minutes of Q3 did Boston regain some ground. They shrunk an 11-point margin to low single digits and could’ve tied or taken a small lead, but Tatum traveled on a drive to the basket and Moose made two blunders almost consecutively—a missed bunny in the low post and an errant bounce pass that should’ve gone to Rozier in the corner. The score was a 1990s-esque 71-67 to Utah’s advantage when the Q3 bell rang.
Ricky Rubio has become considerably more aggressive as the point man for these Jazz than he ever was on the Timberwolves, with him, his backcourt mate Mitchell and Crowder building up a lead they intended to hold. Utah head coach Quin Snyder also had a Bill Belichickian genius for calling timeouts at just the right moment to stop signs of Boston momentum, i.e. when Rozier scored consecutive treys just at the 7:00 mark.
With the Jazz ahead by just five (89-84), the game’s final five minutes were about to be brutal no matter the ultimate victor. Larkin and Rozier were hottest for the Cs but this would need to be a full team effort. Little bits of luck like Rudy Gobert remaining inept on the offensive end (yet no less brutal on D) helped, though not as much as they could’ve. But it would be key to neutralize Mitchell and his second-half hot streak had no end in sight.
The penultimate minute often was a maelstrom of contested shots at the rim and free throws and batted-around rebounds, but it ended in thrilling fashion with Jaylen diming Jayson on a fast break so the latter could hit a one-handed poster dunk on a baffled-looking Ingles, tying the game. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. NERVES. Both teams had chances to pull ahead in the final 60 seconds, but airtight Celtics defense and a slightly over-eager shooting form on a Rozier trey maintained the 94-94 tie.
Fourteen seconds. Larkin gets the inbound from Ojeleye, in no hurry, weaved through the paint on what looked like a layup drive—a perfectly reasonable strategy with as little time as was left—but met the expected considerable oppo from the Jazz interior defense. Five seconds. Larkin has to kick-out to Ojeleye, who you do not necessarily want taking that trey and on some level knows it. Four seconds. Tatum isn’t reachable. Three. Semi shuffles it to Jaylen. Two. Brown dips a few feet behind the arc, fires with 1.4 seconds, BALLGAME. Mitchell missed a final chance at forcing OT, which sealed the W for a hobbled but unbowed Celtics squad.
HOT ISH: Jaylen looking like his old self again with an efficient all-around game; good effort and execution from the bench; a strong performance from Baynes after a series of not-so-great ones.
NOT ISH: A not-great assist rate and offensive sluggish for much of the game; too many turnovers; falling for the Jazz’s physicality and getting in early foul trouble most quarters, which slowed the game down and thus further played into Utah’s hands; some blah shooting nights—albeit ones redeemed by quality elsewhere on the stat sheet (Moose) or clutchness (Rozier).
Yabu dabs always make the highlights:
One of Nader’s good moves, because this may be the last time he EVER makes the highlights: