The Celtics and Jazz are almost mirror images of each other–deep, versatile teams with good young players, led by stars oft viewed as just short of transcendent. Tonight, though, Boston’s offense proved markedly superior to Utah’s immovable-object defense, taking a team accustomed to grinding opponents to a halt and putting them in a spin cycle–leading to a key Celtics win over a rising West team.
THE GAME FLOW
Continuing from his monumental 52-point performance last Friday, Isaiah Thomas started hot. Gordon Hayward shot just as well, unfortunately. The Jazz’s ability to stifle–best in the NBA in opponent points per game and third-best in opp. points allowed per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference–prevented the Celtics from having any safe, cushioned lead, even though they shot about 50 percent during the first quarter and a half.
Excellent ball movement–minus a few facepalm-worthy turnovers, including a blown pass that sent Marcus Smart flying into the first row–kept Boston in front for much of the game’s first half. The snail’s-pace offense run by otherwise highly creative Jazz coach and Patrick Bateman lookalike Quin Snyder kept them from finding any sustainable groove, especially up against Boston’s more transition-contingent style. Jae Crowder had the best two-way game of the first half, perfect from beyond the arc while making tough defensive plays (like that charge he took from Hayward), while I.T. and Horford shouldered much of the remaining offensive load.
Tommy Heinsohn brayed on the CSN broadcast that the Celtics had to shut down exemplary Jazz rim protector Rudy Gobert, and that’s exactly what they did: Gobert had only a single dunk, a block and four rebounds in the first half, allowing Boston to score in the paint with ease. About midway through Q3, Boston’s offense, powered as much by Thomas’s passing and vision (15 assists!) as his scoring, had the Jazz looking walleyed and confused.
The Cs’ victory was never really in doubt. Utah had no answer for Isaiah Thomas and didn’t expect the Celtics to shoot well from 3 (even though there have been signs of their improvement in that area of late). Boston, by contrast, had clear strategies for slowing down Gobert and didn’t fear Sheldon Mack or the still-hobbled Derrick Favors on offense, allowing them to live with Hayward’s points. Still-somehow-alive Joe Johnson (seriously, how’s he not dead?), espresso critic Boris Diaw and Hayward kept the Jazz respectable in the final minutes. But Horford, I.T. and Crowder had already done the necessary damage scoring 20-plus apiece, with Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson keeping it locked down on the other side of the ball.
Not much to complain about in this game, y’all. 13 turnovers are never good–especially considering how awkward some of them looked–but few if any of them had real negative impact for the Celtics. Also, while Utah had the edge with 35 boards to Boston’s 32, nearly matching the glasswork of an elite defensive team is no small thing.
Safety first, kids. Safety first and then teamwork, as I.T. and Kelly O. exemplify on this transition play.
Tommy explains it better than I did in any of them words up there.
Isaiah Thomas: 29 pts on 10-18 shooting (56 percent), 4 reb, a career-high 15 assists and a steal. #NBAVOTE.
Jae Crowder: Leading all players in plus/minus with a 22, Crowder cleaned up beyond the arc to bring in 21 pts, 3 reb, a dime and a steal–but the small numbers in the latter stats belie his actual impact.
Al Horford: Also fairly hot from long range to rack up a 21-5-4 line plus a steal, Horford’s defense played a significant part in deterring Utah bigs like Gobert, Diaw and Favors.