An enormous win against the Milwaukee Bucks should have the Boston Celtics riding high heading into the second night of a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz. Furthermore, Boston is likely looking to settle the score after Utah shocked the in their last encounter.
Still, things could be difficult for the Celtics with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Payton Pritchard all listed as questionable. Robert Williams is doubtful. We know that Horford and probably Williams will sit this contest, and given Boston’s strength in numbers at the five-spot, that’s likely the right call.
However, after witnessing an utter mauling of Milwaukee, the last thing the Celtics should do is take their foot off the pedal and let their momentum dissipate before it’s even begun. Here are three things to look for in Friday night’s game.
Dealing With Size
Utah boasts some legitimate size in their frontcourt, with Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk, and Walker Kessler all in their starting five. Of course, we’ve seen the Celtics face similar tasks in the past, and just yesterday, they found a way to continually pressure the rim despite the presence of Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo, so we know they’re capable of it.
Sure, Kessler is always going to be a threat when defending the rim, and he has a legitimate career as a high-end rim-protecting defender in front of him. So, it would make sense if the Celtics look to run some of their offense through their bigs above the perimeter and drag Utah’s rim protectors out of their comfort zones; then, driving lanes will open up for Boston to feast on.
Nevertheless, given the number of shot creators in the backcourt, Joe Mazzulla could also look to force a more up-tempo game to create easier, less physical routes to the rim, but after playing just 24 hours ago, that could be a risky strategy.
Don’t let 3’s dictate the outcome
I get it. Mazzulla likes threes, and he likes math. Yet, we don’t like seeing heads drop and body language change when the team isn’t feeling it from deep on any given night. The annoying thing about rebuilding teams is that they don’t know when to quit, especially when they smell the blood of a powerhouse.
If the threes aren’t falling, for whatever reason, the Celtics will need to explore other offensive avenues, especially if one or both of Tatum and Brown are watching from the sidelines in street clothes. With so many diverse offensive weapons, the Celtics should have no problem attacking a defense that currently ranks 25th in the NBA, but only if they play to their strengths and take what the game is giving them.
In fairness, we have seen the Celtics become more balanced on the offensive end in recent weeks, but we’re all aware of how they’re prone to playing down to their opposition, and that’s something they will need to be cognizant of avoiding.
Muck it up
One of the primary reasons the Celtics were able to leave the Bucks shellshocked was because of the intensity they showed throughout the game and how they incrementally increased that intensity as the game wore on. We saw a similar game plan earlier in the season as Boston steamrollered their way to the top of the Eastern Conference and looked like a team straight out of a video game.
That type of intensity shouldn’t be saved for the best teams; it can become a calling card, an identity, if you will, and allow the fanbase to rally behind a roster that isn’t scared to get in opponents' faces - metaphorically and literally.
Given the lack of experience on the Jazz roster, being abrasive from the opening tip and looking to control the tone and tempo seem like the ideal way to get the starters on the bench early in the fourth quarter.
Five games remain on the Celtics' schedule, Utah, Philadelphia, Toronto (twice), and Atlanta. All of those games are winnable, but none of them are going to have any bearing on whether a championship comes back to Boston or not. Sure, a resounding win over the Philadelphia 76ers would do wonders for the team’s confidence - beating both of the other big bad wolves in the conference within the same week will do that for you, but unless seeding is still on the line, it’s more for bragging rights than anything else.
Still, I, just like every other Celtics fan, would prefer to see the Celtics go on a run here and finish the season strong, and I hope that started with Milwaukee and continues with the Jazz.