The Celtics started Friday night’s game against the Jazz by making 5 of 6 3-pointers, signaling that perhaps it would be a night of high-powered offense. But the misses came soon after, and kept coming, as the Jazz grabbed a 99-94 victory that mostly felt more lopsided than that.
Marcus Smart had 29 points for Boston but was just 9 for 23 overall. Jayson Tatum had a rare quiet night, with 18 points on 7 of 18 shooting. Jaylen Brown (strained hamstring) and Gordon Hayward (knee contusion), both sat out for the second game in a row.
Mike Conley Jr. led the Jazz with 25 points.
The Celtics trailed, 96-82, with less than three minutes left — similar to the situation the Nets faced before crafting their huge comeback on Tuesday night.
Then Smart hit a 3-pointer and added a free throw, and after a Utah miss Tatum surged to the hoop for a three-point play that made it 96-89.
They had a good chance to get even closer, but Kemba Walker missed a layup, then fired the ball to Brad Wanamaker, who missed an open 3, and the mild comeback ended there.
Observations from the game:
♦ Semi Ojeleye, fresh off his 22-point game against the Cavaliers, started in place of Hayward and had an instant impact on offense, hitting a 3-pointer from the left arc before hitting a tough step-back shot with his foot on the line. But he went just 1 for 6 for the rest of the half and finished the first half with as many shot attempts as Tatum, which probably isn’t ideal for Boston.
The Celtics started the game by making 5 of 6 3-pointers but then missed their last nine of the half and made just 5 of their last 30 overall.
♦ Rudy Gobert, who was neutralized in Boston’s win in Utah earlier this month, had another slow start in this one. At one point, he posted up the 6-foot-6 Grant Williams deep in the post and called for the ball, and when it did not come his way he dropped his head and walked away. He finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds — both well below his season averages — but was his usual imposing self in the paint.
♦ With 6:04 left in the second quarter Tatum picked up his second foul. Stevens stuck with his usual approach and did not take Tatum out of the game because of the foul situation. But his use of the forward for the rest of the half was a bit unusual. Tatum, who averages 34.6 minutes per game this season and has averaged 37.5 since the start of February, started the second quarter on the bench and did not return until just 2:57 remained in the first half. At that point Boston’s 30-29 deficit had mushroomed to 56-43. He did have a pair of careless turnovers late in the first quarter, so perhaps that factored in.
♦ It’s worth pointing out that the Jazz played an extensive stretch without their All-Star, too, and the result was quite different. Donovan Mitchell went to the bench with his team trailing, 27-16, in the first quarter, and by the time he came back with 6:32 left in the second, his team had a 51-41 lead.
♦ The Celtics defense didn’t provide much resistance in the first half, although that always looks worse when teams’ 3-pointers are going in rather than thudding off the rim. Utah made 13 of 21 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, as Boston appeared a step slow on its rotations and the Jazz used crisp ball movement to make the Celtics pay.
♦It appeared Smart had orchestrated one of his game-changing swings early in the third period. After Conley grabbed a rebound Smart swooped in and grabbed it too, forcing a jump ball. Then he won the tip, and then when Conley stumbled on defense Smart drilled a 3-pointer, igniting an 11-0 run that pulled the Celtics within 65-60. But they missed their next four shots and never got that close again in the period.
♦ After the Jazz poured in all those first-half 3-pointers, the Celtics played a 1-2-2 zone defense for much of the third. They still got some decent 3-point looks, but they made just 2 of 11, so Boston mostly stayed in the defense. Utah had just 17 points in the quarter, but so did Boston.
♦ Walker remained on a minutes restriction as he works his way back after missing five games with left knee soreness. He played six minutes in the first quarter, six in the second, five in the third and 10 in the fourth, for 27 total.