5 rational thoughts about the Celtics road trip ending on a sour note

© Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

5 rational thoughts about the Celtics road trip ending on a sour note

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5 rational thoughts about the Celtics road trip ending on a sour note

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The Celtics came home from their week out west with a 2-3 record after a 122-108 loss to the Jazz last night. Losing at Utah is not shocking; at 20-5, the Jazz are atop the NBA. Unfortunately, the Celtics are now 12-11 and fourth in the East, actually closer to the 10th seed than the top seed.

Jaylen Brown returned after missing two games and his knee didn’t seem sore anymore – he scored 33 points in 37 minutes. Jayson Tatum added 23 (17 in the second half) but made just 7 of 20 shots. Boston’s bench outscored the Utah second unit, 23-19. The Celts were burned by Donovan Mitchell’s 36 and Joe Ingles’ 24.

Unlike the past couple of games, the Celtics avoided falling into a hole early. In fact, they made 7 three-pointers in the first quarter to lead 27-24. They cooled off in the second quarter, and Utah took a one-point lead into halftime.

The Jazz grabbed control in the third quarter (described below), upping the lead to 11. The Cs fought back in the fourth, and several times got to within a couple of buckets, but Utah answered each time.

With 3:10 to play and Boston within four, Utah finished with a 14-4 run to win by 14, which was their largest lead of the game. Mitchell and Ingles each scored 10 in the fourth to close it out.

On to the five thoughts.

Third quarter blues

The Celtics often have trouble with the third quarter, and this time it wasn’t unexpected.

The Jazz shot 60% in the period to outscore the Celtics, 42-32. Mitchell was the main tormentor with 14 points. The Celtics gave up two 4-point plays and, after a Jazz basket, screwed up the routine inbounds pass without even being pressured by he defense. Oof.

Adding to the ugliness: After a first half with seven fouls called on each team, and just seven total free throws, the refs dominated the third quarter by calling 10 fouls on each team – 20 fouls in 12 minutes! Both squads went 13 of 14 at the line.

Hard to defend

Utah is a potent offensive team, and they demonstrated that all night. Their 122 points was one point shy of the most the Celtics have allowed this season.

The Jazz average a league-best 17 threes per game; in this one they made 18 of 48. Spreading the floor so effectively contributes to their league-leading offensive rebounding percentage (30.4%). Against the Celtics, they had 10 offensive boards and 23 second-chance (sometimes third-chance) points. The Cs actually had 11 ORebs for 19 points, which most nights would be an advantage for them – but not against the Jazz.

With the Celtics defense concerned about the perimeter, the Jazz were able to penetrate and set up Rudy Gobert for numerous uncontested dunks. Bojan Bogdanovic, not at all known as a high-flyer, twice drove freely to the rim for vicious throwdowns. He almost had a third, but was stopped by a Daniel Theis foul.

Theis threes

Speaking of Theis, the referees’ war on him continued. He had several tough whistles and fouled out with 5:23 left. That was a bigger loss than usual because, in 28 minutes before that, Theis lit it up with a career-high 5 of 6 three-pointers.

Theis averages just 2.1 three-point attempts per game, but he’s super-efficient at 46.9%. Over his last 12 games, he’s made 18 of 28 (that’s 64.3%!) from the arc.

Tristan Thompson

If Tommy Points are still a thing, TT gets one here.

After missing training camp, early-season Thompson wasn’t producing as expected. He seemed to snap out of that on the road trip. In 24 minutes per game, he shot 62.8% (22 of 35), averaging 10.8 points. He added 8.4 boards per game, 3.2 of those on offense.

Thompson’s improved play is encouraging, but his flaws are still there. Per NBA Stats, opponents guarded by him this season are shooting 57% (compared to Theis: 43%). His offense is limited to maneuvering for short hook shots. And his 23 minutes per game are holding back Rob Williams (15 minutes PG).

TT might be most valuable to the Celtics at the trade deadline.

Jaylen and Kemba

The Celtics marketing department calls The Jays “Fire and Ice,” but if you replace Jayson with Kemba Walker, their nickname could be “Fire and Ice Cold.”

Jaylen is having a sensational season: 26.7 points per game, 52.2% shooting, 42.7% threes, and the ability to take over games. Last season, he averaged 20.3 PPG. This season, in 21 games, he’s only been below that three times (18, 18, 19).

Against the Jazz, Jaylen drilled his first three shots – all triples. He went on to make 12 of 20 from the field overall.

JB is at 61.3% true shooting on 30.3% usage rate. For the season, he’s +32 in plus/minus.

Kemba is going in the opposite direction. He’s played 10 games since resting his balky knee, averaging 15 points on 34.2% shooting, 30.6% threes. He’s -45 over the 10 games, whereas for all of last season he was +248 (!).

Some nights Kemba has been himself; he dropped 24 on 9 of 19 and hit the decisive shot in the win over the Clippers last week. But he’s also had nights where he couldn’t throw it in the ocean: 6 of 15, 1 of 12, 6 of 18, and the last two games, 4 of 20 and 2 of 12.

Celtics fans are jittery.

Kemba is moving well so his knee might not be the problem. But what is? The Celtics are going nowhere unless Kemba returns to some semblance of the All-Star that he was last year.

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