In a span of 82 games you’re bound to see a lot of impressive wins and disappointing the losses, tonight was the latter for Boston. This one hurt a little extra for Boston because it reaffirmed some of the underlying issues that this construction of the team has. Without any real veteran depth, Boston relies too much on young players to produce in their 2nd unit, and as most people know, relying on young guys for specific production is not a great recipe. A night like tonight, the effect of not having a guy like Marcus Morris hurt more than what his on-court production would have been. With that being said, Donovan Mitchell is a bad man, Kyrie Irving is a badder man, and Ricky Rubio loves the rims in Boston. Let’s get to how this went down.
There’s an old phrase used in basketball, “a tale of two halves,” for this Celtics team, it was a tale of two quarters. The First quarter began similar to game against Denver, buckets were made at a high-level, turnovers were forced, and Boston looked to have found its groove on the offensive side. The team shot an impressive 52.4% from the quarter behind some impressive play from Al Horford who scored 10 points on 4-4 shooting from the field and had 4 of the team’s 7 first quarter assists. After an unfortunate injury to Gobert, the Celtics still managed to hold contain guys like Mitchell, Hood, and Burks behind some impressive defensive sequences by Jaylen Brown who looked like a man who took the Mitchell matchup personally. It wasn’t perfect, but the first unit exited the game with full control of the game near the end of the quarter... And then the second quarter happened.
If you didn’t have to watch it, bless you, don’t bother. It was horrible. After starting the game 10/15, the Celtics proceeded to go 2/21 including an impressive 0/18 stretch. They literally didn’t score their first basket until the 4:06 mark of the 2nd quarter on a Jaylen Brown layup. It was bad. The Second unit which originally started with Smart-Rozier-Tatum-Semi-Yabusele looked like they didn’t have any rhythm or clear direction in what they wanted to do offensively. There were too many possessions where the ball just didn’t move and guys weren’t sure whether to give the guards space to work or try to set a pick and run some offense. Defensively they initially held up, but the bad juju of continually missing shots has a residual effect on the effort exerted on that end, and it wasn’t long before the Jazz were able to seize the opportunity and raced out to a lead of their own. By the time the Celtics starters started to usher in, the control they once had disappeared and they were left to deal with a reinvigorated Donovan Mitchell who found his groove and a randomly great shooting performance from Ricky Rubio (6-7 from field, 12 points).
By the time the smoke cleared, the Celtics were down 7 (46-39), and the Garden crowd was so quiet you could practically hear the entire Jazz bench.
The good news? Thankfully, it didn’t take the first eight minutes quarter of the quarter for the Celtics to score in the third. The bad? They couldn’t stop Utah at all, and traded baskets as opposed to starting digging into their deficit. Rubio started the quarter liked he ended the 2nd, going toe-to-toe with Irving and getting the best of him a lot. Celtics were able to stabilize a bit when Rubio took a break and Irving was unstoppable the entire quarter with his ability to use off-ball movement to generate advantageous angles. Even Smart got a few baskets to go down and the C’s offense looked promising. However, none of that translated to the defensive end, where Utah continued to put the ball in the basked at an unprecedented rate and not only matched the Celtics offensively, but extended the lead to 12 by the end of the frame.
The Celtics, to their credit, came out swinging in the first half. Larkin was absolutely fantastic in some stretches, bringing some much-needed defensive intensity and strong baskets. There were a lot of times when it felt like the Celtics might be able to close the gaps, but the Jazz always seemed to have an answer, specifically Donovan Mitchell. After the Celtics cut the lead to 9 with a Shane Larkin 3 (81-90), the rookie of the year candidate nailed consecutive back-breaking three’s to push the lead to 15. Just a quick aside, Donovan Mitchell is awesome. The fact that at this stage in his development he knows how to utilize picks so well is promising for that Jazz team. Throughout the game he killed any Celtics momentum with great finishes over the hands of outstretched defenders, and near the end of the game, the Jazz put the ball in his hands to end the game. Maybe the kid from Philadelphia ends up winning the rookie of the year award, but Mitchell is absolutely giving him a real run for his money.
Back to the game. C’s not named Kyrie continued not to make baskets, and a big three by Joe Ingles at the two minute mark had people heading for the exits. That sucked.