The Celtics come to the end of their 4 game road trip. They are 3-0 so far on the trip and are looking for a sweep of the trip with a win against the Utah Jazz. This is the toughest game on the trip as the Jazz have been playing very well and are a very good defensive team and the Celtics are even more shorthanded. The Jazz also are very motivated by several factors.
First, the Jazz are still smarting from the loss of Gordon Hayward. He won’t be playing in this game but the Jazz will be playing to beat his new team and also to show him he turned his back on the better team. You might say that they have gotten over it, but this was tweeted by the Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday and I can imagine that it upset Gordon and his teammates.
Dear @gordonhayward: The @utahjazz are doing just fine without you. @rudygobert27 is a stud and @spidadmitchell is going to be a star, probably bigger than you. You’re not missed. Sincerely, @GordonMonson.
The Jazz are also fighting for their playoff lives and positioning. They are currently 7th in the West. They are half a game behind the Spurs and Pelicans and a win will put them in 5th place just a game behind OKC for 4th, and home court advantage in the first round. A loss will put them in 8th place and a first round matchup with the Rockets. A loss would also put them just 1.5 games ahead of 9th place and the Clippers, who are playing well.
At the trade deadline, Jae Crowder was traded to the Jazz by the Cavaliers for Rodney Hood. He is happy on the Jazz, but still has a chip on his shoulder against the Celtics. It’s ironic that he ended up on the Jazz because he was very upset last season when the Celtics fans cheered for Gordon Hayward because he felt disrespected. Now, Hayward is a Celtic and Jae is on Gordon’s former team. The Jazz will want to win this one for Jae and also for Jonas Jerebko who joined the Jazz in the offseason. Expect both to play hard to try for a win over their former team.
The Celtics have won 4 straight and 3 on the road trip. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and 27-10 on the road. They are 21-8 against Western Conference teams. They are 3.5 games behind the Raptors, who won on Tuesday, and 7 games ahead of the Cavaliers, who lost on Tuesday. The Jazz are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are 24-12 at home. They are 14-15 vs the East.
Marcus Morris is out for this game after spraining his ankle in the game against the Suns. Al Horford is questionable with an ankle sprain. Kyrie Irving (knee), Daniel Theis (knee), Gordon Hayward (ankle), and Marcus Smart (thumb) are all still out. The Celtics signed Xavier Silas, who last played on Scal’s team in the Big 3 League, and he is expected to join the team for this game.
The Celtics face a big game on Saturday against the Raptors and so even if the Celtics can’t pull this game out without Horford and Morris, it might be wise to sit both players to have them fresh and healthy for Saturday’s game. As to who will start if Horford can’t play, my guess would be Semi Ojeleye or Guerschon Yabusele. For the Jazz, Raul Neto (wrist) and Thabo Sefolosha (knee) are both out.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Terry Rozier
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford (questionable)
C: Aron Baynes
Marcus Morris (ankle) out
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Al Horford (ankle) questionable
Two Way Players
Probable Jazz Starters
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Joe Ingles
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Rudy Gobert
Raul Neto (wrist) out
Thabo Sefolosha (knee) out
Jaylen Brown vs Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell has been a very impressive rookie for the Jazz. He is the only rookie with three 30+ point games (41, 31, and 32). He is leads all rookies with 20.3 points per game along with 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists. In the earlier game vs the Celtics, Mitchell finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists, hitting two back-to-back three pointers late in the game to seal the game for Utah. Brown’s size and defense will hopefully slow him down somewhat.
Aron Baynes vs Rudy Gobert
The 7’1” Gobert has a height advantage over Baynes but Baynes should have a strength advantage that he can hopefully use to keep him away from the basket somewhat. Gobert is averaging 14.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. The Celtics need to try to keep him out of the paint.
Terry Rozier vs Ricky Rubio
Rubio is averaging 12.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. In the first game, which the Jazz won, Rubio led the Jazz with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Terry will need to come up big for the Celtics on both ends of the court for the Celtics to win this one.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - Much of rebounding is effort and when the Celtics put out that effort on the boards, we see it in the other areas of their game. The Celtics are averaging 44.4 rebounds per game (8th) while the Jazz are averaging 43.0 rebounds per game (20th). The Celtics were out rebounded 55-31 in the first game between these two teams. If they want to win this one, they have to do better on the boards.
Defense - Defense is the key to winning each and every game. The Celtics must play the swarming team defense that we saw from them to begin the season. The Celtics are still the team with the best defensive rating (101.2). The Jazz are also a good defensive team with a defensive rating of 102.0, good for 2nd in the league. Defense wins games and the Celtics must play tough swarming TEAM defense. The Celtics must particularly guard the 3 point line as the Jazz shot 52% from beyond the arc in their December win against the Celtics.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics have to take care of the ball, make smart passes, and limit their turnovers. The Jazz are 13th in the league, averaging 16.6 points off of turnovers and the Celtics don’t want to give them extra points by getting careless with the ball. The Jazz are also 3rd with 8.7 steals a game. It will be important for the Celtics to keep their focus and not turn the ball over and not be careless with the ball.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics can’t afford to dig a hole at the beginning of the game and they can’t let up at the end and lose focus and miss shots and allow the Jazz to score at will. They also can’t afford those periods in the game where they turn the ball over and lose their focus. They have to play hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
End of the Road - The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 4 game Western road trip. They have won the first 3 games and so it would be easy to let up and say 3-1 on the trip is pretty good. The last game in a road trip is always a tough one as the team is road weary and tired and may struggle to keep their focus. They have to stay focused on playing Celtics basketball and block out all the distractions that come from playing on the road.
Motivation - I’m sure the Jazz have had this game circled ever since Gordon Hayward signed with the Celtics this summer. Hayward’s former teammates, especially Gobert, were upset that he left the Jazz and will likely be extra motivated to beat the team he signed with. Jae and Jonas will be motivated to beat their former team. The Jazz will also have the home crowd to help motivate them. The Celtics have to dig deep for enough Celtics Pride to help them avenge their earlier loss to the Jazz.
Injuries - The Celtics are still very short handed while the Jazz are pretty much healthy and they are starting the same lineup they did in Boston. So far on the road trip, the Celtics have been able to overcome the absence of 4 (and in 2 games 5) of their key players. However they are at the end of the trip and the injuries that just keep coming may just catch up to them, especially if Al can’t play.