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Utah Jazz (36-40) at Boston Celtics (53-24) Game #78 3/31/23

The Celtics return home after a big win over the Bucks to face the Utah Jazz.

Boston Celtics v Utah Jazz Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images

The Celtics return home from a Thursday night game against the Bucks to face the Utah Jazz. This is the second and final game between these two teams this season. The Jazz won the first game 118-117 in Utah on March 18. Both times the Celtics face the Jazz this season are on the second night of back to back games and both are the 3rd game in 4 days.

The Celtics are playing at home in between road games against the Bucks and the 76ers. This is the 12th back to back set for the Celtics this season. They have one more set coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday against Philadelphia and Toronto. The Jazz are playing in the 2nd game of a 3 game road trip. They beat the Kings on Wednesday and will close out the trip on Sunday in Brooklyn.

The Celtics remain in 2nd place in the East, 2 games behind the first place Milwaukee Bucks after a 41 point win in Milwaukee on Thursday. They are 2.5 games ahead of the 3rd place Philadelphia 76ers and 5 games ahead of the 4th place Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics are 28-9 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 22-7 against Western Conference opponents. They are coming off a win in their last game.

The Jazz are 12th in the West. They are 1.5 games behind 10th place Oklahoma City and a spot in the play-in tournament. They are 2.5 games behind 7th place Minnesota. They are 4 games ahead of 13th place Portland. The Jazz are 14-24 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 13-15 against Eastern Conference opponents. They won their last game after losing the 4 games before that one.

Since this is the second of back to back games, and Robert Williams and Al Horford both played on Thursday, I’m guessing that both will miss this game. Both are on the Friday injury list with Horford listed as questionable and Timelord listed as doubtful. Danilo Gallinari is out due to ACL rehab. Payton Pritchard is questionable due to heel soreness. Jayson Tatum (hip) and Jaylen Brown (back) are also listed on Friday’s injury list as questionable. I’m going to guess that Blake Griffin starts at center if both Robert Williams and Al Horford are out.

For the Jazz, Lauri Markkanen is listed as out for this game with a hand injury. Kelly Olynyk was a late scratch for Wednesday’s game with a non-covid illness was questionable for this game but was left off Friday’s injury list update. Jordan Clarkson has missed the last 11 games with a finger injury and is listed as out. Rudy Gay has missed the last 4 games and is out for this game due to back spasms. Colin Sexton is out with a hamstring injury.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Blake Griffin

Celtics Reserves
Malcolm Brogdon
Sam Hauser
Luke Kornet
Mike Muscala
Blake Griffin

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Mfiondu Kabengele

Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Payton Pritchard (heel) questionable
Robert Williams III (illness) doubtful
Al Horford (back) questionable
Jaylen Brown (back) questionable
Jayson Tatum (hip) questionable

Head Coach
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Jazz Starters

PG: Talen Horton-Tucker
SG: Ochai Agbaji
SF: Juan Toscano-Anderson
PF: Kelly Olynyk
C: Walker Kessler

Jazz Reserves
Udoka Azubuike
Kris Dunn
Simone Fontecchio
Damian Jones

Jordan Clarkson (finger) out
Collin Sexton (hamstring) out
Rudy Gay (back) out
Lauri Markkanen (hand) out

Two Way Players
Johnny Juzang
Micah Potter

Head Coach
Will Hardy

Key Matchups

Marcus Smart vs Talen Horton-Tucker
Horton-Tucker is averaging 9.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He is shooting 41.9% from the field and 29.1% from beyond the arc. He is coming off a game against the Kings where he scored 41 points. In the first game vs Boston he had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal. He shot 40% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc.

Jayson Tatum vs Kelly Olynyk
Olynyk is averaging 12.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He is shooting 49.4% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc. In the first game between these two teams, Olynyk had 13 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. He shot 40% from the field but didn’t shoot a 3 in that game. He is a good shooter and at 7’, he has a height advantage over Tatum. The Celtics need to pay special attention to Olynyk, especially on the perimeter.

Honorable Mention
Blake Griffin vs Walker Kessler
Kessler is averaging 9.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 2.4 blocks. He is shooting 72% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. Against Boston in the first game, he finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, 1 assist and 3 blocks, including the game saving block at the end. I’m guessing that Blake will start at center if Al and Rob both sit. The Celtics need to defend Kessler especially in the paint and also be aware that he is a rim protector and rebounder.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to winning each and every game. The Celtics are 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.9 while the Jazz are 25th with a defensive rating of 116.1. The Celtics are 3rd in points with 118.0 while the Jazz are 6th in points with 117.2 The Celtics must particularly guard the 3 point line as the Jazz have some very good 3 point shooters on the team and they are 5th with 38.2 three pointers attempted 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 45.2 rebounds per game (7th) while the Jazz are averaging 45.6 rebounds per game, which is 5th in the league. The Jazz are 4th with 16.7 second chance points per game. The Jazz are 31-5 when they out-rebound their opponents. If the Celtics want to win this game they need to crash the boards and out-rebound the Jazz.

Focus - The Celtics must come into the game focused on playing the right way as a team. They need to focus on moving the ball and moving without the ball. They have to focus on taking good shots and making them. They have to focus on making good passes and not get sloppy handling the ball. They have to stay focused on playing tough team defense and not miss defensive assignments. And they have to focus on what is at stake and every player has to give their best effort.

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.

Back to Back - The Celtics are playing in back to back games and in the 3rd game in 4 nights. They have to stay focused on playing Celtics basketball and give extra effort because fatigue may be a factor down the stretch in this game and they have to overcome the fatigue and push themselves to go the extra mile.

Coaching - This is the second time that Will Hardy and Joe Mazzulla will be matched up against each other as head coaches. Both are former Celtics assistant coaches and both are first year coaches who have done well in their first season. Will Hardy got the win in the first game by 1 point. Which former assistant will lead their team to the win in this one?

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? 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.

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