There are some games that are decided by the basketball gods. We mortals can sharpen our skills with hard work and repetition, but sometimes, in the randomness of sport, we control our fate as much as we control the weather or whether or not a 25-footer goes in the rim.
In last night’s 137-130 loss in Utah, the Jazz shot a blistering 27 of 51 from behind the arc, including 9 of 13 in the first quarter. That early in the game, head coach Ime Udoka didn’t blame the sky for the rain.
“Not in the first quarter. We didn’t come out prepared for that. Knowing that they’re a team that shoots a ton of threes or wants to get to the basket, we weren’t switching up aggressive,” Udoka said after the Jazz jumped out to a 38-25 lead.
Different time zone, long flight to Salt Lake City, and less than two minutes into the game, you might forgive somewhat lackadaisical defense, but as a former player, Udoka understands players finding a rhythm after a handful of makes. Mike Conley hit his first three three-pointers in the first quarter and would make all seven from distance on the night.
Udoka acknowledged that the team’s defense was better after that disastrous first frame, but given how hot Utah was, Boston couldn’t put out the fire. Even after the Celtics ramped up their pressure defensively and scored 31 points off of 19 turnovers, the Jazz scored 78 points in the second half. At some point, you have to tip your cap to the other side.
“We’ll have to look at the film and see, but I felt we were there. There were some mistakes. We held off when we didn’t need to. We gave them looks, but I definitely feel like there were some really really tough ones,” Al Horford said. To start the second half, Udoka opted to start Grant Williams instead of Robert Williams next to Horford, giving Boston more defensive versatility on the perimeter and spacing on offense. “We were there. We contested them. We gotta shake their hand and give them credit. We’ve been playing really good defensively and they were just hitting.”
Utah is second in the NBA at three-point attempts per game at 42.1 a night. By comparison, Boston is 15th at 36.3 3FGA. On Friday night, 51 of their 81 field goals were from 3, their second highest total of the year. Last season, the Jazz set their team record for 3’s in a game at 28 and won that game 132-110 over the Charlotte Hornets. So, if there’s a silver lining to start the road trip, it’s that Boston competed and even had the lead late into the fourth quarter.
“It’s tough, but I’m so proud of our group tonight because when that was happening, we were just going right back at them, attacking them,” Horford said. The big man had one of his best games of the season, scoring 21 points with six rebounds and nine assists. “In the past, I feel like that could have rattled us. When they got it going early like that, it could have gone a different way. We tightened up and kept fighting.”
To the Celtics’ credit, they matched their regular season-high point total at 130 points against a top-10 defense without one of their All-Stars, Jaylen Brown. They’ll immediately have a chance at redemption tonight when the play the Portland Trail Blazers at 10 pm EST.