The Boston Celtics kicked off a five game road trip with a hard fought loss to the Utah Jazz, with the final score settling in at 137-130.
For a season where scoring has largely taken a dip, thanks in large part to stricter officiating reducing the amount of free throw shots teams are taking per game, this offensive explosion by both sides made for a very entertaining game. Unfortunately, the Celtics were unable to prevail over the Jazz, pushing their record to 12-11 on the season.
Despite the loss, there were a number of reasons to be encouraged from Boston’s performance in this one, and you can make an argument that it was their best game of the season. Despite all the fanfare the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns are getting a top the Western Conference, the Jazz have silently remained towards the top of the conference as well. It’s clear they are one of the top teams in the league right now.
This game wasn’t necessarily expected to be as competitive as it was, especially given Boston’s offensive struggles to start the season, and the fact they were without one of their top scorers in Jaylen Brown. Yet they managed to go shot for shot with the Jazz for most of the night, and it ultimately took an otherworldly shooting performance from Utah as a team to pull out a win. This was the best Boston has looked in a while, and that’s a good sign for Celtics fans everywhere.
Despite losing, the Boston Celtics played some of their best basketball against the Utah Jazz
Early on, this looked like it was going to be another one of those nights for the Boston Celtics. They fell behind by double digits less than four minutes into the game, and saw the deficit swell up to as high as 14 early on in the second quarter. Yet the team stuck with it, and rallied back into the game with a big second quarter showing.
Despite losing the first quarter 38-25, Boston made things interesting by upping their defensive intensity, and ended up trailing by just three heading into halftime, with the score being 59-56. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see the C’s roll over and die against a top tier team such as Jazz, but they fought their way back into a game that could have gotten ugly very quickly.
From there on out, it was an offensive onslaught from both sides. Both teams scored 41 points in the third quarter, and simply seemed incapable of missing. The fourth quarter was filled with multiple runs from each side, but the Jazz ultimately got the last laugh thanks to some incredible three point shooting. So with the mini recap out of the way, let’s dig a little deeper and see why this game was one of the Boston Celtics best on the season.
For starters, let’s take a look at what Utah had to do to win this game. The Jazz shot 55.6 percent from the field, including an absurd 52.9 percent from behind the arc. For those who didn’t watch the game, this screams that the Celtics just weren’t playing any defense, and let Utah do whatever they wanted offensively, but that simply wasn’t the case. The Jazz continued to hit tough shot after tough shot all night long, particularly in the second half.
The Celtics upped their defensive intensity in the second quarter (the Jazz only scored 21 points that frame), but Utah responded in the second half by not letting Boston alter their gameplan. Basketball is a sport that relies a lot on confidence, and you don’t hit a lot of the shots the Jazz were hitting with a shortness of confidence. The Jazz stuck to their gameplan, and despite Boston’s best efforts, they shot their way out of trouble in this one.
The Boston Celtics defense has been their calling card all season long, and despite Utah’s 137 point explosion, that remains the case. What really stood out about this performance was the team’s offensive production. If you told me heading into this one that the Jazz were going to score 130+ points, I would have immediately told you it was a blowout. But the offense stepped up and stayed neck and neck with the Jazz throughout this game.
Let’s start with Al Horford, who was the main reason this game didn’t get of hand in the first half. Horford dropped 19 points in the first half alone, and looked more like the old version of himself Celtics fans in love with during his first stint with the team. Horford finished with one of his best lines on the season (21 PTS, 9 AST, 6 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK), and generally did a good job defending Rudy Gobert on the other end.
Horford then handed the reigns over to Jayson Tatum, who took this game over in the second half. Tatum scored 27 of his 37 points in the second half, and his 16 point third quarter was a particularly masterful showing. Tatum had everything working for him, as he was hitting layups, his favorite midrange jumpers, and even mixed in a three pointer in there along the way.
Tatum shot a surprisingly efficient 12/25 in this one, and got to the free throw line 11 times. While his three point shooting is still well below where it needs to be (2/11 last night, and still just at 31 percent on the season), this is the blueprint to get Tatum points on a nightly basis. Get him to the rim, and let him expand his range as the game progresses. Of course, getting to the line 11 times doesn’t hurt either.
Even after Tatum and Horford, there were contributions up and down the lineup. Dennis Schroder continued his scoring exploits with 26 points in this game on 10/21 shooting. Marcus Smart has continued his offensive renaissance at point guard with 15 points on 5/11 shooting. Josh Richardson chipped in 11 points off the bench, and Grant Williams continues to prove he’s turned himself into a marksman, shooting 2/3 from behind the arc.
Overall, it was the most encouraging offensive showing from this team this season. The Boston Celtics have clearly figured things out on the defensive side of the ball, but they had struggled all season long to find any semblance of consistency on offense. Here’s hoping that the return of Brown to the lineup will help the team continue this showing, and who knows, maybe a little win streak could be in store for this team down the line.