Growing up in Utah, you played basketball.
Especially if you belonged to the dominant denomination in the state, their buildings of worship were all equipped with the finest quality full sized basketball courts. Play, they told us. Play as much as you wish. They told us that the church was all about physical fitness.
And we played as much as we wanted. There were leagues to be played in and we practiced constantly, our practice sessions were intense and sometimes heated – and the games were heated and always physical…good for us, they said. Brothers fight all the time.
One could watch the Utah Jazz play and swear that we were back in those stuffy gyms – intensity, forearms, shoulders and elbows, hip checks and gouging.
It’s called church ball, and the Jazz play it like no one else.
So how in the world did the Boston Celtics come into their gym and take one away from the big, tough Jazz?
It’s called church ball, and the Celtics beat the Jazz at their own game.
Paul Pierce scored 26 points including seven strait in overtime as the Celtics clawed out a 110-107 overtime victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night in Salt Lake City. Pierce also led the team with 8 helpers and pulled down 7 boards. Avery Bradley was hot early, scoring 12 of his 18 points in the 1st quarter for Boston who ended their 5 games in seven nights western conference roadie with a 2-3 record.
Brandon Bass got loose for 15 big points while Courtney Lee and Jason Terry scored 14 a piece, and Kevin Garnett checked in with 13 points and 10 tough rebounds.
Gordon Hayward led all Jazz scorers with 26 off the bench and Paul Millsap logged a quiet 16 points while big Al Jefferson and Marvin Williams each poured in 15 for the Jazz, who saw it’s record fall to 31-26.
The contest had all of the symptoms of a classic church ball matchup: Hot and cold running shooters, elbows, bone jarring blocks and tank-style charges and featured violent momentum swings. Down by seven in the second quarter thanks mostly to Bradley’s hot hand, the Jazz strung together a 17-2 run behind Hayward’s dozen to take a five point edge into the locker room.
Floundering and disorganized early in the second half, the Celtics suddenly embarked on a furious 20-4 run to take and eight point lead into the final frame – where the Jazz outscored the Celtics by that same margin to send the game into overtime. Pierce missed a chance to win the game for Boston in regulation when his 18 foot jumper rimmed out…
…so he took it upon himself to make sure that the Celtics came out on top, scoring seven points in overtime sandwiched around two Garnett buckets in a game that Boston coach Doc Rivers called the Celtics “Best win of the season”.
The Jazz enjoy home cooking for a few more days, hosting Atlanta on Wednesday and welcoming the Bobcats on Friday before heading out for a 4 game swing through the eastern conference while the Celtics get a few days off before hosting the Golden State Warriors, then embarking on yet another 5 games in 7 nights stretch, four of those games on the road starting withe the 76ers in Philadelphia next Tuesday.
Sunday night in Portland, the Celtics were sluggish but still were in the game at the end, but they couldn’t afford to have that same kind of performance against a Jazz team that rarely looses at home and becomes as loud and intimidating as any building in the league – so the veterans lead the way in this one and didn’t waiver when the game became physical.
The Celtics tried to dictate the pace of the game, but that’s when Hayward matched and then overwhelmed Boston – but the Celtics had an answer every time for one of the more satisfying and gritty wins of the season, matching the Jazz forearm for forearm, hip for hip, elbow for elbow…
…and in the end a win that they will feel for a couple of days, because that’s what church ball is all about…