Celtics-Jazz preview: Utah 'going to be a handful' defensively

Celtics-Jazz preview: Utah 'going to be a handful' defensively

BOSTON – This first half of the season has been a daunting one for the Celtics schedule-wise, one that has seen them face plenty of tough-to-score-upon defenses.

But tonight’s opponent, the Utah Jazz (22-13), may be the toughest of them all.

Generating enough offense to win will indeed be challenging for the Celtics (20-14) who will host a Jazz squad that gives up fewer points than any team in the league this season and are coming off a 101-89 win at Brooklyn on Monday night.

One of Utah’s primary targets to limit will certainly be Isaiah Thomas who is averaging a career-high 27.7 points per game this season, and is coming off a career-high 52 points in Boston’s 117-114 win over the Miami Heat.

He’s accustomed to being a focal point of opposing defenses, regardless of how stout they may be.

“Every night I just go and do my job,” Thomas said. “I don’t care who we’re playing against, or what defensive team or what not, I have a job to do for my teammates. And that’s go out, be aggressive and make plays for others and score the basketball. Whether they’re a good defensive team or not, I have to do my job and get a win.”

While center Rudy Gobert draws a lot of attention for his rebounding and rim-protection skills, he’s just one of the many cogs that have made Utah such an elite team defensively.

“They’re super-long at almost every position,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And obviously, Gobert is as long and as good a rim protector as there is in all of basketball. And so, they’ve been a top-five defense when healthy the better part of the last 2 1/2 years … they have a really good team.”

In addition to going into Monday’s game against the Nets having given up a league-low 94.7 points per game, Utah also sat atop the NBA’s defensive standings in fewest fast break points allowed (10.1), fewest assists per game (17.4), effective Field goal Percentage defense (.476), opponent 2-point percentage (.456), opponent 3-pointers made (7.9) and attempted (22.2).

In other words, they seemingly defend every spot of the floor at a high level which is one of the chief reasons why the Jazz seem poised to break through and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They are currently fourth in the Western Conference standings.

As much as the Celtics pride themselves on getting the job done defensively, they know their offense just might have to carry the day tonight.

They come into tonight’s game scoring 106.1 points per game along with averaging 24.9 assists which ranks 10th and 3rd, respectively, in the NBA.

Boston also ranks among the NBA’s leaders in 3-pointers made (11.2, 4th in the league) and 3-pointers taken (31.6, also 4th in the NBA).

One player that the Celtics may not have to worry about is George Hill, who is in the NBA’s concussion protocol program and did not play against Brooklyn on Monday. The concussion is certainly not to be taken lightly (remember, Al Horford missed nine games with a concussion earlier this season), but the bigger issue for Hill and the Jazz has to do with the elbow he caught from Phoenix’s Alex Len on Sunday which resulted in a cut to the mouth that required 22 stitches to close.

There is some concern that bringing him back too soon may put him at risk of having it re-opened. And considering injuries have limited Hill to just 13 games this season (they’re 9-4 in those games by the way), the last thing they want to do is put him in harm’s way for potentially missing more games.

Regardless of whether Hill suits up or not, tonight’s game should be a good one for a pair of teams whose play of late has them trending in the right direction.

“A lot like us, they’ve been up and down from an injury standpoint and health standpoint,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “But they’ve weathered it well. They’re playing great. They’re going to be a handful, for sure.”

NBA: Congrats to the Celtics on the win, but they for sure should not have won

File Photo

NBA: Congrats to the Celtics on the win, but they for sure should not have won

The NBA officials' Last Two Minute report for Tuesday is out, and boy did the Celtics get away with one!

The league admitted to missing two infractions -- both committed by Marcus Morris -- on the possession on which Morris hit a game-winning three-pointer against the Thunder. 

The C's began the possession with Morris inbounding the ball, but a stopwatch revealed to the league that Morris did not release the ball within the five seconds allotted on an inbounding play. Had the correct call been made, the ball would have been turned over to the Thunder, who at the time held a two-point lead with 7.7 seconds remaining. 

Furthermore, video replay led the league to determine that Morris traveled prior to taking the shot. The video evidence that suggested this was that Morris was wearing an NBA jersey in the video, but also he moved his pivot foot prior to the release of his dribble. That call would have also given the Thunder the ball. 

What these nerds didn't consider is that the basketball gods have more power than their stopwatches. What a win. 

Celtics have shown a knack for the comeback this year

AP Photo

Celtics have shown a knack for the comeback this year

BOSTON -- As I made my way towards the Boston Celtics locker room following their 100-99 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, I walked past co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, who, as you might expect, was pleased with what he had just witnessed.
“That was a good one,” he said.
That’s one way to describe it.


But explaining the Houdini-like way the Celtics seem to get out of some serious jams over and over again, and against really good teams, is indeed a head-scratcher for most.
It’s getting to the point where we’re running out of fresh adjectives to describe this team, which has a knack for the comeback.
“Improbable” doesn’t do justice to how Boston’s hit-the-lottery luck has played out so often on nights when it seemed on the doorstep of defeat.
And this town loves a good comeback story, whether it’s Tom Brady leading the Patriots to a Super Bowl win after being down by 25 points, or the Celtics spotting the NBA champ Golden State Warriors a 17-point cushion before rallying for a meaningful November win -- a rarity in the NBA.
But the obscure and unexpected have become standard in this seemingly alternate basketball universe that the Celtics play in, one that we have been bearing witness to all season.

I mean, look at their body of work:

DECEMBER 18: Down by one on the road at Indiana in the closing seconds of play in what appears to be a tough road loss, Terry Rozier steals and races down the floor looking like Deion Sanders in high-tops, for a game-winning dunk.

DECEMBER 28: Trailing the Houston Rockets by 26 points in the third quarter, they rally back and steal the win with not one, but two offensive fouls drawn in the last minute by Marcus Smart against perennial league MVP candidate James Harden.

JANUARY 11: In London, they erased a 22-point deficit and defeated Philly.

FEBRUARY 4: There was a buzzer-beater by Al Horford to beat Portland on Super Bowl Sunday.

And . . . well, you get the idea.

Boston has six wins by a single point this season, which is tied with Miami for the season lead and is one shy of tying the franchise record for one-point wins in a season. 

In addition, Boston has won 10 games this season in which it fell behind by 12 or more points. 
Winning so many games under less-than-ideal circumstances has not only padded the Celtics' win total, but also reinforced this team with a Teflon-strong mindset. They believe they're tthe ultimate practitioner of basketball necromancy, consistently finding a way to rise up from the basketball graveyard of defeat and win in dramatic fashion.

Like they did Tuesday night against the Thunder.

How can you bank on Carmelo Anthony, a career 81.2 percent free-throw shooter, missing a pair with less than nine seconds to play?
Or botching the play Brad Stevens drew up at the end of the game -- "We kind of messed [it] up," said Jayson Tatum -- but, rather than it leading to a turnover, instead becoming a game-winning 3-pointer by Marcus Morris with 1.8 seconds to spare? 


 It was another crazy ending in what has been a season filled with bizarre finishes, jaw-dropping rallies and a never-say-it’s-over brand of basketball that has kept Celtics fans on the edge of their seats all season.
“It’s great to be in a situation where you’re down six with under a minute to play or whatever it was, and you find a way to win the game,” said Stevens. “That’s going to be pretty unique, but they just kept playing the next possession and we were fortunate that that shot went down. That was a heck of a shot by Marcus."
A heck of a shot?
But in this bizarro world of Celtics basketball this season, it was predictable as the Thunder became yet another team to play Boston and leave wondering the same thing most Celtics fans do … “Did THAT just happen?