Jazz Upset Celtics 107 – 95 after Losing Starting Front Court

December 15th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

Jonus Jerebko came up huge with Utah missing nearly 14 feet of center in their stunning 107 – 95 upset in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Story of the Game

Reeling from four straight losses and an anemic two of 10 on the road this season, Utah headed to East-leading Boston, not only the city that stole Gordon Hayward as a free agent but also a place where the Jazz last win was in 2008. It looked like the least likely venue for a victory.

Then, less than two minutes into the game, Rudy Gobert left with another MCL sprain.

Then, with 4:06 left in the half, Derrick Favors took a Jaylen Brown elbow to the eye and left the court dripping blood, not to return.

And then the Jazz won the game.

Bereft of any interior offensive presence, Utah combined scrappy–maybe even desperate–defense with timely three point shooting to pull out the least likely win of the season. The Jazz shot a scorching 52 percent from long range, nailing 13 threes despite taking only 25 shots, five fewer then their stated per game goal.

Boston bested Utah’s volume but couldn’t come close to matching their accuracy, making only nine of 31 attempts for a paltry 29 percent.

Only one Jazz player who attempted a three made less than 40 percent of his attempts1. Joe Inlges, Rodney Hood, Jonus Jerebko, and Ricky Rubio (not a typo) combined to shoot a ridiculous 11 of 18 from three.

The Jazz gave away a game they had to have in Chicago two nights ago. Tonight, they grabbed back that win in the most unlikely of ways against the most unlikely of opponents.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio

With no interior scoring presence available for a majority of this game, Utah’s only hope was a productive night from their guards and they got that. Mitchell’s 17 points on 18 shots may look like a poor profile for being listed here. But three factors warrant the praise and all should make Jazz fans giddy: 1) with the Celtics making a push in the fourth quarter, Mitchell scored 10 points on 60 percent shooting  in the period, including making three pull up jumpers, two from long range; 2) he spent much of the night guarding Kyrie Irving, who, despite scoring 33 (on 25 shots) was a minus-10 on the night; and 3) he led the team with a team-high nine assists. There are very, very few players in the NBA who can score on their own like Mitchell, capably defend an athlete like Irving, and orchestrate an offense. The Jazz have such a player and he’s 21.

Part of the reason Mitchell could finish so strong was that beginning-of-the-season Rubio showed up for the first three quarters of this game. To that point, the Spaniard was an amazing 10 of 11 from the field, good for a team-high 22 before the fourth quarter even started. Rubio’s contribution lessened the burden on Mitchell to drive the offense, leaving him plenty in the tank down the stretch, something that didn’t happen against the Bulls. Rubio added seven rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Even a scoreless final quarter (on four shots) didn’t lessen the importance of Rubio’s contribution, largely because he helped reserve some gas in Mitchell’s tank for winning time.

Secondary Star: Jonus Jerebko

Jerebko was pumped in his return to his former team, and he harnessed that energy for perhaps his best game in a Jazz uniform. He contributed offensively, scoring 17 points on only eight shots, including making two of three from long range and all three free throws, and even grabbed two offensive boards. He contributed defensively, coming up with two steals and a block, along with five defensive rebounds. Most importantly, he was a plus-eight on a night when he had to absorb some minutes at center in super-small lineups forced by injury. He was great and is probably the happiest guy in Boston.

Secret Star: Ekpe Udoh

As the only true center Utah played in the second half, Udoh’s plus-12 in his 29 minutes of play was huge. He produced a team-high nine rebounds, adding one each assist, steal, and block while chipping in five points. This is the type of impact he’ll need to make seeing as Gobert appears to be facing another prolonged absence from the lineup.

Stats of the Game

24 – Jazz scoring advantage from the bench, which blasted Boston’s inexperienced bench 50 to 26.

42 – Points in the paint allowed after losing both of Gobert and Favors. Despite Jazz perimeter players defending hard, the interior was punished. The game was a victory because Boston basically couldn’t hit a shot from anywhere else while Utah rarely missed.

1 – Celtics fast break points, a real key to holding the team to 95 points.

24 – The Jazz rebounding advantage. Utah grabbed 55 boards (nine offensive) where Boston managed only 31 (two offensive). This helped to offset the turnover disadvantage (15 to only eight Celtic turnovers), allowing Boston only three more shots on the night than Utah.

Sundries

  • Mitchell smoked Jason Tatum in the night’s matchup of elite rookies. Where Mitchell faced down Irving in the fourth quarter, Tatum only managed his first positive impacts on the game in that quarter. While Tatum’s stat line of seven points on six shots, four rebounds, and two assists isn’t terrible for a rookie, he was a competitive non-factor all night. Through the first three quarters he had more fouls than points, including fouling Jerebko on a three point shot. Tatum will be a good player, but Mitchell continues to make any rookie not named Ben Simmons look bad.
  • No one could have called how little focus would be on Hayward tonight. Between Hayward’s ghastly injury and Boston thriving without him, and after the dual injuries to Gobert and Favors, the first of which may be potentially serious, it’s hard to imagine a combination of factors that could have sapped Jazz fans’ rancor more. Hayward was in the building to watch this game but wasn’t behind the bench where he would draw attention.
  • Utah may only be 14 and 15, but consider this thought experiment. Before the season started, would Jazz fans trade the eighth spot in the West this year for Markelle Fultz, or Lonzo Ball, or Jayson Tatum? I think most would. Come to mention it, I think Jazz coaches, management, and ownership probably would as well were they to be perfectly honest. Mitchell looks better than all those players. He’s leading the team in minutes and has developed faster than anyone dared dream, including addressing every concern critics voiced about him in the draft.
  • Here’s a second question to ponder: assuming Gobert misses some time with his sprained MCL, how bad is that really for the Jazz? How would a person even decide upon their answer? Utah is losing a top-15 player during the most difficult month any team will face this season while fighting to stay within reach of the eighth playoff spot. That sounds cataclysmic. But the Jazz played their best and most consistent basketball this season while Gobert was injured. Plus, as unlikely as it was, they won again tonight with him only playing two minutes. There’s legitimate reason to believe the loss may not hurt the Jazz nearly as much as would have been assumed to start the season. If Favors is healthy and, moved exclusively back to center again, picks up his confidence and impact as he did in Gobert’s last absence, is it even possible to say Utah will be no worse off without it’s All-NBA franchise cornerstone? It’s a measure of how weird this season has been that the question is legitimate.

Next up: LeBron James, in Cleveland, tomorrow, sans Gobert. December, the most wonderful time of the year indeed.

 

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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4 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    No Gordon Hayward. No Rudy Gobert. No Derrick Favors. No problem.

    Dahnnnn-o-vahnnnn!!! Riiiccckkkkkyyyyy Rrrruuuubbbbbiiiiioooooo!

    Who would have guessed this outcome? Answer: No one. Not !! one !! person !!

    I guess that’s why we play the games, rather than just doing simulations.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      So true. How often will Rubio have a spurt where he shoots 10 of 11? There’s no way to game plan for that. It’s the kind of thing that happens in sports, and it’s one of the things that makes them so much fun.

  2. Tony says:

    Glad you gave Ekpe a shout out. I thought he was immense in his minutes. Love his attitude – been left out since Rudy got back, gets a chance and played really well. Opponents continue to underestimate him on the defensive end.

    How good is Mitchell? Wow. Dennis Lindsay is a god.

    Clint, I thought you final point hit upon an uncomfortable feeling. It’s like a dirty little secret festering in some of our minds that we try to deny and pretend isn’t there. The winning run without Rudy and the way we played was great. Then he goes down tonight… everyone is like “damn not again” but secretly, wistfully, “maybe we will play well again without him. Maybe the offense will flow again”. And somehow it did.

    Not for a second do I think that any of us would prefer Rudy to be out. Despite the fact Donovan is playing like an All-Star hopeful, Rudy is our best player and we all want him healthy and playing. But… I agree it is WEIRD. I really hope when Rudy is back, he and Ricky can figure it out and we can take a positive step forward.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      It is very strange. To me, it’s one of the biggest indicators that Snyder hasn’t yet put this roster’s puzzle pieces together. But I think there’s another element: I don’t think the defense has been as good or consistent this year. With Gobert out of the lineup, the focus shifts to offense and they’ve won games. With Gobert in and a more defensive mentality, they’ve lost. I think this is an under-addressed area that has me fairly concerned. I think defensive discipline and focus is slipping some.

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