The Celtics return home from their 4-0 Western road trip to face another Western Conference team as they host the Utah Jazz. This is the second and final game between these two teams this season. The Jazz won the first game 137-130 in Boston on December 3. The Celtics were without Jaylen Brown in that game. The Jazz were 2-0 last season against the Celtics and they have won the last 6 games between these two teams.
The Celtics are 4th in the East and have won their last 4 games, all on the road and all against Western Conference teams. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games and 24-12 at home. They are 15-12 against Western Conference teams. The Celtics are tied with 3rd place Philadelphia, and half a game behind 2nd place Milwaukee. They are are 2.5 games behind first place Miami. The Celtics are 2.5 games ahead of 5th place Chicago, 3.5 games ahead of 6th place Cleveland, and 4.5 games ahead of 7th place Toronto.
The Jazz are 4th in the West and are coming off a loss to the Nets. They had won three straight before that loss. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and 19-16 on the road. They are 16-12 against Eastern Conference teams. They are 2.5 games behind 3rd place Golden State, 4 games behind 2nd place Memphis and 13 games behind first place Phoenix. They are 1 game ahead of 5th place Dallas, 2 games ahead of 6th place Denver, and 3.5 games ahead of 7th place Minnesota.
The Celtics are back home after a 4-0 road trip where they beat the Warriors, Kings, Nuggets and Thunder. They have consecutive home games against Western teams as they host the Jazz and then the Timberwolves. They then will play at Toronto before a 3 game home stand where they will host Miami, Indiana, and Washington. They will end their season on the road in Memphis.
The Jazz are playing in the 3rd game of a 6 game road trip. They are 1-1 so far, winning at New York and then losing in Brooklyn. After this game, they will play Charlotte, Dallas, and the Clippers all on the road before heading home for a 5 game home stand. They will then play their final game on the road at Portland.
The Celtics should all be healthy for this one. Aaron Nesmith returned to the active roster on Monday after missing two weeks with a sprained ankle. Marcus Smart (sinus) and Robert Williams III both missed Monday’s game against the Thunder and both are listed as probable for this game. The Celtics assigned Nesmith, Nick Stauskas and Malik Fitts to the Maine Celtics for Tuesday’s game but they will likely be available for this game if needed.
For the Jazz, Bojan Bogdanovic has missed the last 5 games with a calf injury and has been ruled out for this game. Danuel House has missed the last 4 games with a bone bruise on his knee and is out for this game. Udoka Azubuike has missed the last 6 games with an ankle injury and has also been ruled out for this game. Former Celtics Juancho Hernangomez started at small forward in place of Bogdanovic on Monday and I’ve included him there for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Marcus Smart (sinus) probable
Robert Williams III (knee) probable
Probable Jazz Starters
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Juancho Hernangomez
PF: Royce O’Neale
C: Rudy Gobert
Bojan Bogdanovic (calf) out
Danuel House (knee) out
Udoka Azubuike (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell has been the Jazz’s best player so far this season. He is averaging 26.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. He is shooting 45.1% from the field and 36.3% from beyond the arc. He put up 34 points in the first game in Utah and so the Celtics must defend him well. If Mitchell starts to get hot, we will likely see more Marcus Smart defending him. Jaylen Brown has been playing very well also and the Celtics will need another big game from him on both ends of the court.
Marcus Smart vs Mike Conley
Conley is averaging 13.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. He is shooting 43.9% from the field and 38.1% on three pointers. The Celtics have to stay with him and not allow him to get hot from the outside. Conley is a very good player and put up 29 points in the first game in Utah. The Celtics need to defend him well as he can get hot if left open.
Robert Williams III vs Rudy Gobert
Gobert is averaging 15.4 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. He is shooting an incredible 71.2% from the field. He does not take 2 pointers and hasn’t made one this season. The Celtics need to try to keep him out of the paint and off the boards as much as they can.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to winning each and every game. The Celtics are 1st in the league with a defensive rating of 105.8 while the Jazz are 9th with a defensive rating of 109.5. The Jazz play tough defense, but they also are 6th in the league averaging 113.9 points per game. The Celtics must particularly guard the 3 point line as the Jazz are 7th, shooting 36.5% on threes and are 2nd in 3 pointers made with 14.8 per game. They also score 47.4 points in the paint per game. The Celtics must play smothering defense if they hope to get a win in this 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 46.2 rebounds per game (5th) while the Jazz are averaging 46.4 rebounds per game, which is 4th in the league. If the Celtics want to win this game they need to crash the boards and out-rebound the Jazz. They especially need to box out Gobert to keep him from grabbing all the rebounds.
Bench Play - The Jazz have some players off their bench that can put up big numbers and do so on a regular basis. Jordan Clarkson is averaging 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists off the bench and is shooting 41.9% from the field and 32.0% from beyond the arc. Rudy Gay and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are also capable of hitting big shots and Hassan Whiteside can get to the hoop and score if not defended well. The Celtics need to continue to get production off the bench from players like Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, Derrick White and Daniel Theis.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to go after loose balls, rebounds and also be more aggressive defensively. They have to be aggressive in going to the basket and also in moving the ball. The more aggressive team usually gets the calls and also the win. The Celtics have to play like the team that wants it more. They have to be aggressive for 48 minutes and not let up because if they do, the Jazz will likely take advantage of it.
Home vs Road - The Celtics are at home where they have won 4 of their last 5 games. The Jazz are on the road where they have lost 4 of their last 8 games. When the Celtics lost to the Jazz in Utah, they were playing the first game of a 5 game road where they went 1-4. The Jazz are on the 3rd of a 6 game road trip and are coming off a loss. The first game back home after a road trip is a very tough game but hopefully the Celtics continue to play hard and stay focused on playing the right way.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Will they let them play or will they call every ticky tack foul? Will they favor the home team, call it evenly, or give the road team an advantage? We never know what any given crew will do. The Celtics need to stay focused and not allow bad calls or lack of calls take them out of their game. They also need to avoid wasting time complaining about calls they don’t like.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are a 5-point favorite at home against the visiting Jazz. While still a homecoming after four games out west to a welcoming TD Garden crowd, it’s Boston’s fourth game in six days. Despite a string of blowouts, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown nearly 36 and 34 minutes respectively. Utah has been one of the league’s best teams over the last fifteen games (9-6 with the 5th best net rating of 5.2) and are coming off a back-to-back split against the Knicks and Nets.
The returns of Robert Williams and Marcus Smart after one-game absences in Oklahoma City reunite a starting lineup that’s been a nasty +23.8 per 100 possessions in 430 minutes this season. That’s been the story and source of the Celtics surge of late, but during the week out west, they also fortified their bench. The foursome of Grant Williams, Derrick White, Payton Pritchard, and Daniel Theis averaged a combined 41.4 points on the road.
In their last meeting back in early December, both teams went nuclear. The Jazz hit 9-of-13 from behind the arc in the first quarter. The Celtics answered with a 31-21 second quarter. In the second half, the teams combined to shoot 25-for-48 from 3 with Utah escaping with a 137-130 shootout win. Since then, Boston’s offense has been surging and improving incrementally every month. If Brown and Tatum can combine for 60+ points again tonight, expect Boston to win going away.
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