It was the second game of a road back-to-back Wednesday night in Salt Lake City after the Celtics had beaten the Trail Blazers the night before. It was set up as one of those preseason schedule losses that just did not set up well for the Celtics. However, that was quickly debunked as the Celtics took home the win closing out a very successful west coast swing.
The headline of the win over the Jazz was Jayson Tatum’s performance, but the team defense that wrapped up a 3-1 road trip was an underappreciated second. It carried over from the night before (but was a little bit more impressive because Portland did not have their All-Star Damian Lillard playing in that game).
In both of these games, the Celtics showed an emphasis on ball pressure using their size on the outside to make guards and smaller forwards try and distribute the ball elsewhere. It works well when they throw wings at teams with the length of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward, not to mention the tenacity of Marcus Smart.
The first quarter of the Jazz game was one of the better quarters of defense they have played all season. They held them to 15 points which was the second lowest quarter the Jazz have had all season. It wasn’t just missed shots either. It was a connected and concerted effort by the entire team where everyone was switching, staying in front, and contesting shots across the board.
They honed in on Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles and completely shut them down on the wings. Bogdanovic was held to 3 points and Ingles was limited to two. They were non-existent on offense. These are two of Utah’s biggest X-factors outside of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert that could win a game for them and the Celtics put the clamps down.
Coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics defense had been making changes all throughout the Jazz game depending on the lineups. They started in a normal man-to-man defense to start the game, but they switched to a zone defense multiple times. Most of the night the Jazz relied on Donovan Mitchell (shooting 32 times), so the defense changed to a 2-1-2 zone occasionally, focusing in on the main point of offense for the Jazz. This worked most of the night especially when they were trying to isolate with Theis or Kanter on the pick-and-roll. It gave more flexibility to key in on the main focus of the Jazz offense.
We saw similar scheming a night before in Portland. With the Trail Blazers without Damian Lillard, it gave the Celtics an easier way of attacking them on the defensive end and allowed them to hone in on one person, CJ McCollum. McCollum is the real only offensive option, so the defense was centered around him.
Against Portland, they had a bit harder time getting it all to come together. The defense was not fully there until the second half, especially relative to the Jazz game. Portland started the game hot, hitting contested shots by McCollum and a vintage Carmelo Anthony. Then, the defense tightened up a bit. The same style that was carried over into Wednesday night.
It’s a complete team effort trying to see which teammate needs help on defense. Once Tatum sees Hayward being a little outmatched in the post, he drops back off his guy to come and block the shot.
It has been said many times before, but while Jayson Tatum is stealing the show becoming one of the best players in the league as of late, the Celtics have had some real bright spots on the defensive end as well. In these two huge road wins against Portland and Utah, the Celtics showed how dominant their team defense can be.