The Celtics continued their western road trip tonight against a team a little more their speed. Sporting nearly identical records, this looked to be a close matchup.
The Celtics came out strong on defense to start the game. They held Utah to just six points in the first seven minutes. They made an effort to deny the ball from the post. Derrick Favors was doubled multiple times in the first quarter. This forced Utah to shoot from outside, where they missed the majority of their attempts. They didn't make a single shot greater than 12 feet from the rim. This was important too, because Utah was effective when they did make it inside. The Boston offense wasn't great, but Jae Crowder was aggressive. He scored five points to lead them after one period of play. Boston committed way too many turnovers and kept Utah close after one quarter.
Boston and Utah started the second tied at 17. After the sloppiness in the first, Boston responded by shooting incredibly well. They built an 18 point lead after making eight consecutive shots from the field. The Celtic defense kept up their great play from the first quarter. They held Utah to just 14 points, and one made field goal in the last six minutes. This was one of the best quarters of the season for Boston as a team. They outscored the Jazz by 24 points to lead 55-31 at half.
Marcus Smart was excellent in his second quarter minutes. Smart had five points, three assists and a steal. He did the little things too, like taking contact to draw a charge on Millsap. Tayshaun Prince had his best game as a Celtic too. He scored 10 points in the second quarter alone, which is more than he'd scored in any game for Boston.
Despite the vaunted frontline of Utah, Boston rebounded well in the first half. Utah missed almost everything from the perimeter, so limiting second chance points was huge for the Celtics. Rudy Gobert did make his presence felt with three blocks, but it wasn't enough to stop the onslaught of points from the Celtics.
With a 24 point lead, a little letdown was to be expected in the third. Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter helped the Jazz to cut the lead to 16 after just four minutes. Brad Stevens called a timeout to calm the team down, but it was of little use. Once again, Hayward and Kanter combined to cut the lead down to single digits. Boston's sloppy play led to an 18-0 run in less than five minutes. Regression to the mean is a thing, but that's awful. It didn't stop either. Boston couldn't make a shot and kept turning the ball over. With the Celtic lead cut to four, Tayshaun mercifully stopped the bleeding with two free throws and a runner. Boston and Utah traded baskets for the rest of the third, which left the Celtics with a five point lead.
Thankfully Utah couldn't keep up their pace from the third quarter. Before the nine minute mark, Boston had already built the lead back to 13. Marcus Thornton was a much needed spark for the Celtics. He made a great assist to Tyler Zeller, then scored the next six Boston points. They were able to keep a solid double digit lead for the next four minutes. Trey Burke was on fire in the fourth and kept it close. His 13 points almost gave the Jazz a chance to steal the victory. Tyler Zeller made some huge hustle plays down the stretch to keep the Celtics ahead though. He blocked a Favors layup and a few plays later ran down a loose ball to give Boston possession. Boston made enough free throws to close the game out, and survived the late game scare.
This was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from the Celtics. They played an unbelievable second quarter, then almost gave away the game in the third. But, winning the second game of a road back to back isn't easy for any team. It wasn't very pretty at times, but it was a win.