BOSTON -- In the past four games, the Boston Celtics' interior defense has been like a 24/7, 365-day EZ-Pass lane for opposing teams, who have had at least one player drop 30 or more points against them.
Boston’s defense at the rim was better against Utah.
But on the perimeter?
That’s another story. The Celtics lost 99-94 to the Jazz for their season-high third loss in a row at home.
Mike Conley gave the Celtics fits all night, finishing with a team-high 25 points to go with five assists and three steals.
The Celtics were led by Marcus Smart, who finished with a game-high 29 points on his 26th birthday.
The C's limited the Jazz to just 37 points in the second half, but Boston could not generate enough offense of its own after trailing by 13 at the half.
OK, we get it. Utah came in shooting a league-best 38.5 percent from 3-point range. But that doesn’t justify them filling it up the way they did in the first half on Friday. The Jazz connected on 13 of their 22 3-point attempts (59.1 percent). For the game, Utah was 17-for-45 from deep.
Boston was better at that end of the floor in the second half, forcing Utah to miss seven of its first nine 3-point attempts in the third quarter. It allowed the Celtics chip away at Utah’s halftime lead.
The struggles by Boston’s defense highlight what has been a unit that has been inconsistent lately and allowing lots of points in the paint.
Boston plugged that hole up on Friday, only for their 3-point defense to leak profusely, which seemed poised to sink their chances at avoiding their first three-game home losing streak since 2018.
The cry for better scoring from Boston’s second unit gets louder and louder with each passing game. And games like Friday certainly make for a strong case as Utah’s second unit outscored their Green Team brethren, 39-13.
No one expects the bench to score at the same level or better than most teams because most teams don’t have the kind of offensive firepower Boston has with its starters.
But the bench players have to play better defense, which more than anything, was why they - and the entire team for that matter - struggled against Utah.
For this group, it’s never going to be about outscoring teams but rather, making more of an impact.
That's what they have to do a better job at if they are to reverse this recent run of losing at home.
Semi Ojeleye didn’t deliver another career game scoring, but the confidence he’s playing with now - especially when it comes to shooting - is undeniable.
Getting the starting assignment for Jaylen Brown (hamstring), Ojeleye scored the first basket against the Utah Jazz before finishing with nine points on 4-for-10 shooting.
Boston is going to need the kind of two-way versatility we have seen the last couple of games from Ojeleye as it opens up opportunities for Ojeleye as well as his teammates.
That end-to-end impact from Ojeleye was evident in one sequence in the third quarter when Ojeleye grabbed an offensive rebound before getting a put-back basket moments later over Rudy Gobert. And on the ensuing defensive possession, Ojeleye then drew an offensive foul against Jazz guard Mike Conley to complete one of the better offensive sequences we’ve seen from the third-year wing this season.
It's the kind of play the Celtics need to see more of from him going forward.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Thunder-Celtics, which begins Sunday at 5 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 6 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.