The Celtics understand there are greater challenges in life than having to play a basketball game on the same day as riding on a luxury airplane.
But they are also unmistakably creatures of habit. So when their flight home from Milwaukee after beating the Bucks Thursday night was canceled because no pilot was available, it was a disruption, and it complicated Friday night’s home game against the Jazz.
The team sat on the plane for about a half-hour before busing back to the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel for the night. It took some time to find rooms for everyone.
“Nobody knew exactly what was going on,” guard Marcus Smart said. “Then when we finally figured it out it was already 2 in the morning. So we get back, by the time we went to bed, adrenaline is still going.”
When the Celtics flew back to Boston Friday morning, they knew the day would be unusual, but they chose to be galvanized by it. There had been discussions about resting Jayson Tatum against Utah, but the forward stood up and said he wanted to be part of this challenge.
“We were talking on the plane,” Tatum said. “We were all kind of in this together. We just wanted to kind of go through it with the guys and rock out and play and figure it out. And it was fun. It was fun figuring it out regardless of how the last 24 hours went.”
Before tipoff at TD Garden, coach Joe Mazzulla deflected multiple questions about the plane situation, making it clear he did not want it to become an excuse or a distraction. There is no time for either right now.
The Celtics were hardly perfect against the Jazz. But considering Utah disassembled its roster at the trade deadline and was playing without its three remaining top scorers, perfection was not necessary, as Boston grabbed a 122-114 win.
On the heels of Thursday night’s demolition of the Bucks, securing this win under these odd circumstances was fulfilling for the Celtics.
“Over the last 48 hours our guys have shown just a mindset to be able to navigate different emotions, different things that the league presents,” Mazzulla said, “so we just have to work to continue that.”
With the win, the Celtics pulled within 1½ games of first-place Milwaukee. Boston has four games remaining and the Bucks have five.
Tatum’s hot streak continued Friday. He brushed off some early double-teams that Jazz coach and former Celtics assistant Will Hardy threw at him and made 12 of 17 shots (5 of 8 3-pointers) and scored 39 points.
It’s been a tough shooting season for Tatum at times. But he might be getting hot when his team needs him most. It’s the fifth consecutive game in which he made more than 54 percent of his shots. He hit that mark in just 2 of 12 games preceding this run. Tatum also had 11 rebounds.
Guard Malcolm Brogdon added 19 points and 7 assists off the bench, and forward Blake Griffin, who started in place of Al Horford and provided fresh legs and a burst of energy, finished with 6 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Griffin’s presence was particularly noticeable late in the fourth quarter, with the Celtics holding onto a double-digit lead that felt somewhat tenuous. He tussled for loose balls, attempted to take charges, and even riled up his teammates and the crowd when he picked up a technical foul.
“He’s just brought a different type of energy for us,” Smart said. “Especially on a night like this when the energy is down, to have Blake on your team is great.”
When the teams met in Utah two weeks ago, the Jazz escaped with a 1-point win when Grant Williams’s potential game-winning shot was blocked. But Utah had All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen then, and on Friday he was out with an injury, joining guards Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton.
Utah scratched out a 2-point lead after one quarter. But the talent gap was obvious and Jazz turnovers and missed layups began to pile up. The Celtics led, 72-61, before the Jazz clawed back with a 7-0 burst, leading to a Boston timeout.
With Tatum and Brown both on the bench, a rarity this season, Brogdon drilled three 3-pointers during a 12-2 Celtics run. The lead didn’t slip below double digits again until the final minute.
“I thought [Brogdon and Derrick White] spearheaded that lineup with their pace and their decision-making,” Mazzulla said. “I thought Malcolm went on a small run by himself. We have the ability to play different ways. We have a lot of depth. We can play small and big. When Malcolm is at his best, he really provides that second unit with a big spark.”