Wounded Celtics Blaze from Three, Down Jazz 97 – 94

March 28th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

The Boston Celtics’s Jayson Tatum pounds Jaylen Brown’s chest after Brown’s game-winning three over the Utah Jazz with 0.1 seconds left in the game. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Story of the Game

In a loss with huge playoff implications, the Utah Jazz stumbled at home against an injury-riddled Boston Celtics team missing six significant players, 97 to 94.

Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, and Daniel Theis were all out with injuries for Boston. Not surprisingly, Utah started the game well with multiple finishes by Rudy Gobert rolling to the hoop and open jump shots as Celtic players scrambled to slow the Jazz’s motion offense. By quarter’s end, all Jazz starters had scored at least three points, Gobert had six and six rebounds, and Mitchell had scored five on four shots, leading to a 24 to 18 lead. Everything was going as planned against their injured opponent.

Then in the second quarter Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made an adjustment, dropping players into the lane to stop the roll man in Utah’s pick and roll, be that Gobert or Derrick Favors. Utah’s offense ground to a halt while Boston went on a tear from three point range with a shooting display that would ultimately win them the game. They made four of five threes in the second quarter, doubling Utah up in the period 30 to 15 for a nine-point halftime lead.

Utah compounded Boston’s hot shooting by turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, but defensive adjustments and re-dedication turned the tables in the third quarter. Utah’s active defense finally took advantage of its talent advantage, forcing nine Celtic turnovers in the third quarter. As Boston’s three point shooting cooled (one of four in the quarter), the Jazz stormed on a 30 to 10 run, eventually opening an 11-point lead and threatening to run away with the game.

At this point Stevens made the pivotal call of the night, deciding to try to slow Utah’s offense down by switching to a two-three zone. The Jazz’s offense was caught off guard and never adjusted, scoring only two points in the final four minutes of the third and allowing Boston to climb back into the contest with a nine to two run.

In the fourth quarter Utah grabbed the lead and held it most of the way, looking like they would weather Boston’s hot shooting. Yet the Celtics unlikely hot streak continued, adding another five of nine attempts in the fourth quarter. Utah missed all five of its three point attempts, including two by Joe Ingles, the second ranked three-point shooter in the league. 

Even so, Utah managed to hold the lead throughout the fourth quarter until, in the final two minutes of the game, Stevens returned to his zone defense. Utah missed all five of its shots and turned the ball over once, which resulted in a tied scored with Boston having the game’s final possession. After scrambling defense chased passes to the very end of the clock, Jaylen Brown received the Celtics last pass at the top of the key and, falling back to the floor after an open three, drilled the shot, his third make from long range on three attempts, and the game winner. 

It was a fitting end on a night where the Celtics shot 57 percent from beyond the arc, more than doubling Utah’s pitiful 27 percent.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: None

While Mitchell had bursts of dominance this game and Rubio’s stat line was impressive, no Jazz player was able to consistently impose his will on what was essentially a well-coached, energized NBA bench. 

Secondary Stars: Donovan Mitchell (22 points, 6 assists, 1 steal, 3 threes) and Ricky Rubio (14 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 three)

Mitchell again showed his ability to score points in bunches, going on a third-quarter stretch where he scored 10 straight points for the Jazz. Yet he again was unable to muster an efficient offensive game, requiring 20 shots to get his 22 points, though admittedly against a quality defensive team. He was also unable to create with his typical impact at the end of the game against the Boston zone.

Rubio had a near triple double, missing by only two rebounds, while throwing in three steals. His one of six shooting from long range killed the Jazz, however, as Boston’s defense’s ability to close out heavily on shooters like Ingles while also packing the paint against the roll man off of picks was enabled by the decision to risk giving Rubio open jumpers. Today, he didn’t make them (he wasn’t alone in that) and it cost his team a very important game.

Secret Star: Dante Exum (8 points, 1 assist, 1 rebound, 1 block)

Exum only played nine minutes tonight, and in hindsight perhaps it should have been more. Of all Utah’s players, only Exum possessed the speed and finishing ability to punish Boston’s aggressive defense by attacking the rim after the ball was swung to the weak side of the floor. He made three of four field goals and both his free throw attempts, and added a massive block recovering after a Jazz turnover. Especially against the zone, Exum’s speed and quickness in breaking the paint off the catch might have compromised Boston’s desperate zone better than the options the Jazz ended up trying.

Stats of the Game

57 percent/27 percent – Boston’s/Utah’s three point percentage. 

9 – Turnovers by Boston in the third, resulting in a 30 to 10 Jazz run that prompted Stevens to resort to the zone defense.

5 – Celtic threes in the fourth quarter on nine attempts. They shot five of 14 (36 percent) from two-point range.

Plus-25 – Shane Larkin’s game-high plus minus. He was awesome with 10 points, four assists, and an incredible nine rebounds. He’s 5’11”.

7 – Straight points by the Celtics in the final two minutes of the game to close out the win.  

Sundries

  • There really is no good time to be out-shot by 30 percentage points from long range in the NBA, but tonight was uniquely poor timing. Boston played without three All-Stars (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford) two major contributors (Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris) and a recent pleasant surprise (Daniel Theis). It was effectively the Golden State game all over again, only this time Utah managed to lose to an NBA bench. The only way Boston could win this game missing the talent unavailable to them was by hustling like crazy on defense and shooting the ball well beyond reason. They did both, yet it wouldn’t have mattered if Utah had simply performed to their average from the three point line. On the season, they make 37 percent from long range, which would have meant 12 made threes rather than 9, good for a six point win.
  • Aron Baynes was quietly huge in this game. His 13 points and six rebounds against Gobert are solid numbers, but much more important was how he limited Gobert’s impact on the game. He dragged the Stifle Tower away from the hoop and when he stubbornly stayed in the paint punished the Jazz, making six of eight shots, mostly jumpers. He also played a major role in Boston’s strategy of getting two and three men into Gobert’s body on rebounds, which resulted in the Frenchman getting his hand on far more offensive rebounds than he was able to pull down. 
  • The zone is a gimmick in the modern NBA. With the amount of spacing in the game and players’s ability to quickly attack the rim, either with the ball or particularly on cuts, and elevate, a team should be able to get a quality shot on every possession against a zone. Then, they should be able to punish the defense on the glass. The Jazz didn’t manage either tonight. Stevens played a wild card when it looked like his team was outmatched and it won him the game.
  • Quality defensive teams are making the same defensive adjustment the Celtics did tonight: take away Gobert and Favors rolling to the hoop. That is Utah’s most effective action for warping a defense and making defenders make difficult choices, opening up opportunities for ball and player movement. Teams like San Antonio and Boston are simply clogging the paint on the roll and leaving pre-identified players open for long jumpers.
  • Rubio’s shooting may be as important as anything on this team outside of Gobert’s presence at the rim. Teams simply refuse to help on him in the paint, letting him penetrate until he nears defenders sticking to their assigned man so they can swipe at the ball without breaking the defensive scheme. Teams also leave him wide open for threes. Amazingly, he takes over three shots from three point range per game with no defender within four feet. Far more of his threes are wide open, with no one within six feet, than with a defender in position to contest. When he makes those open looks, Utah is really tough to beat. Tonight he missed them.  

The three-point shot has completely changed the NBA game, and it’s hard to be too critical of a loss determined almost completely by atypical shooting, where one team’s accuracy is unsustainably deadly while the other’s is out-of-character inept.  Yet when a team is missing three All-Stars as well as arguably two of their three other most important players, they shouldn’t beat a team that aspires to reach home court in the playoffs on that aspirant’s home floor. It just shouldn’t happen given the talent disparity, despite the application of a gimmicky defense.

This was a bad loss and possibly a costly one. Instead of being tied for fifth in the West with the Pelicans and Spurs, both of whom the Jazz own the tie-breaker over, Utah has now fallen to eighth. They sit a half game behind the Timberwolves, who own the tied breaker over Utah, and remarkably only one game over the Clippers, who have won three straight. It’s hard to criticize a team that has won 23 of 28 games, but the fact is Utah has recently slipped in two bad losses, tonight against Boston’s walking wounded and the inexplicable home loss to the Hawks. 

The team can only hope these huge lost opportunities don’t end up costing them too dearly. On Friday, they get their last best chance at an easy win this season when they host the Memphis Grizzlies. Unfortunately, recent games that have appeared on the easy side of the scale have ended up anything but. 

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.

3 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Three observations about the end of the game:

    1) I thought the Celtics “out-quicked” the Jazz in the last two minutes of the game–going on a 9-0 run to close out the game. Shane Larkin wasn’t even in the NBA last season, but had a career night or close to a career night against the Jazz. Dante Exum is the one Jazz player who can stay with and defend very small, lightning quick guards of opposing teams who have been killing the Jazz over the past 5-6 games. The Jazz’s game-closing lineup of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, Crowder and Gobert could not match the quickness of the Celtic’s closing lineup of Larkin, Rosier, Brown, Tatum and Monroe/Baynes, and I thought that was the differnce in the game over the last two minutes.

    2) Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles killed the Jazz offense in the last two minutes of the game by passing up open shots in an apparent attempt to get a better shot–but with a lack of awareness that the shot clock was about to run down. The result was 3-4 desperation shots at the end of the shot clock by the Jazz in the Jazz’s last 4-5 possessions with no one in position to get an offensive rebound, and with the Jazz transition defense then put into a scramble by a bad, long range shots resulting in long rebounds. One of Jerry Sloan’s core coaching philosophies was that good offense sets up a team to play good defense. The refusal or lack of awareness by Ingles and Crowder to take the best open shot of the Jazz possession in the last 4-5 possessions of the game led to both crappy scrambling offense and crappy scrambling transition defense by the Jazz at the end of the game, resulting in the Celtics going on a 9-0 run. I thought the 6-0 run by the Celtics, mostly on layups in transition, prior to the last shot of the game was what really cost the Jazz this game. Even if Crowder and Ingles would have missed the open shots, which they were either too unselfish, too cowardly or too unaware to take, at least such misses would have come in the normal flow of the offense, and the Jazz would have been set up much better to either get an offensive rebound or to get set up on defense after the shot–in order to avoid a transition layup. When a team is scrambling around to get off a shot at the end of the shot clock, it usually leads not only to bad offense, but also to bad transition defense. Brad Stevens drew up a great final play and the Celtics and Jaylen Brown executed it to perfection, but the Celtics never would have been in a position to win the game on the final shot, if the Jazz hadn’t totally collapsed on both offense and defense in the prior 1 minute 45 seconds.

    3) Dante Exum was the best player on the floor on both offense and defense for the couple of minutes just before Quin pulled him from the game to insert his closing lineup into the game. Yet, when the Celtics were “out-quicking” the Jazz with Shane Larking and Terry Rosier to close out the game, Exum, as the Jazz’s best countermove to the opposing team’s quickest players continued to sit on the bench to close out the game. I thought that Quin Snyder’s refusal or failure to make an adjustment to counter the Celtic’s “out-quick” strategy, by reinserting Exum back into the game–as the only Jazz player with a chance to keep up with lightning quick guards of the Celtics–was a big factor in the Jazz loss.

    • Spencer says:

      Great points Paul. Great analysis Clint. One other observation. Favors and Gobert pairing was extremely effective on both ends of the floor tonight. Favors rebounding on missed free throws and ability to punish inside through rolls or offensive rebounds in the zone would have been easy ways to get a couple more baskets and possessions. That’s all we needed.

      Frankly, I think we need a little more of both Exum and Favors going forward. The pressure they put on the rim offensively combined with their defensive length is a huge advantage that is not being exploited right now.

      • Spencer says:

        Favors +15 for the night in 23 minutes illustrates what a crime it was to leave him on the bench in the fourth.

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