SALT LAKE CITY — Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was beaming after the team’s 97-94 win over the Jazz Wednesday that was capped by Jaylen Brown’s last-second 3-pointer.
Ainge, a former BYU star, remains quite the celebrity here, despite the fact that he swooped in and plucked away Gordon Hayward last summer. And Ainge’s family tree has sprouted quite a few branches in Utah, so he was surrounded by happy loved ones in the bowels of the arena after the win.
Ainge was pleased by his undermanned team’s 4-0 trip that also included an impressive win over the Portland Trail Blazers, and he thinks the stretch could have future benefits for players who are suddenly receiving more chances.
“It’s good to have this next-man-up mentality,” he said. “Brad [Stevens] has them prepared, and the guys just play hard.
“They haven’t executed well on either end of the court at times. But at big times against good teams on the road, those are tough games to win even with a full squad.
“The leaders set the tone, and the other guys know they have to play hard. It’s a league of opportunity, and we have guys that are really getting their first shots right now.”
Stevens remains almost stunningly focused and balanced even amid impressive winning streaks, but from his perch, Ainge does have more of an opportunity to enjoy stretches like this one, even if only briefly.
“Obviously winning games in Utah and Portland are challenging even when you’re 100 percent, so give the guys credit,” he said. “We haven’t played great basketball. We’ve had some bad stretches. But our guys have been resilient and they just keep fighting. It’s been fun to watch.”
Here are some thoughts and observations about the state of the Celtics as they march toward the postseason.
■ The Celtics outscored the Jazz by 25 points during Shane Larkin’s 33 minutes, 34 seconds on the court Wednesday. That also means Boston was outscored by 22 points during Larkin’s 14:26 on the bench. The pesky point guard has been invaluable recently, including his team-high nine rebounds in this game.
■ When Hayward spurned the Jazz to sign with the Celtics last July, Wednesday’s game figured to be one of the most highly anticipated of this NBA season. But Hayward’s opening-night ankle injury changed that, and it seems some of the vitriol toward him in Salt Lake City has subsided.
There were a handful of fans at the game wearing Hayward Celtics jerseys, and I was curious whether they were Boston fans or just Hayward fans whose allegiance to him had not wavered.
As for Hayward’s health, Stevens said the forward is still using an anti-gravity treadmill and has yet to progress to unaided running. He just spent a few days in Miami to get a break from the monotony of rehab. Stevens said he thinks that when the postseason arrives, it will sting Hayward.
“He’s in a really good place; it’s just that it’s hard,” Stevens said. “He hasn’t played the whole season, and now as you’re entering playoff time, that’s a whole other level of interest you have in trying to be there to help your team. So I know it’s hard for him.”
But Stevens added that this absence from basketball will likely only make Hayward’s heart grow fonder.
“When he gets back on the court, if he loved it before, he’ll really love it now,” Stevens said.
■ The Celtics went on an absolute tear shooting 3-pointers during this trip. According to basketball-reference.com, Boston is just the second team in NBA history to make at least 48 percent of its tries in four consecutive games while connecting on a minimum of 10 3-pointers in each game.
Coincidentally, the Jazz earlier this season became the first team to do it.
But no team has ever hit those marks in five straight games, and the Celtics will have a chance to do that against the Raptors Saturday.
Boston’s four-game surge is even more impressive when one considers that three of the team’s top four 3-point shooters missed games during the stretch, as Kyrie Irving (four), Marcus Morris (two), and Al Horford (one) were all sidelined at various times.
■ If you don’t think former Celtic Jae Crowder was seeking some revenge after the team traded him to the Cavaliers last summer, consider this exchange he had with Jaylen Brown when the two embraced after the game.
“He said it hurt him,” Brown said. “He said it hurt him real bad. I said I wanted it to. I wanted it to sting a little bit.”
Brown was looking for a different kind of revenge. He had not forgotten about how thoroughly the Jazz stomped the Celtics in Boston in December. Regardless of this game, Crowder seems to feel much better about his role in Utah than he did in Cleveland. He’s a good fit with the Jazz.
■ To recap: The Celtics just won a road game against a powerful team with Irving, Horford, Morris, Marcus Smart, and Daniel Theis all sidelined. They won despite committing 10 third-quarter turnovers and trailing by 6 points with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter.
■ I got a bit wistful during this stop in Salt Lake City, because for the first time since 2013-14, there will be no return trip in July.
The Celtics took part in the four-team Utah Jazz summer league each of the last three years. It was a nice, low-key event that was the perfect lead-in to the considerably more chaotic Las Vegas summer league. And it was the first chance to get a look at recent Boston rookies such as Terry Rozier, Brown, and Jayson Tatum.
Stevens said the team had several discussions earlier in the year about whether to return to Salt Lake City, and it was ultimately decided that it was just a bit too much of a grind when combined with Las Vegas.
“It didn’t feel like it was as important to play this many games,” Stevens said. “This was an incredible place to play summer league, and one of the main reasons to me was how it was like a road game.
“When you played Utah, this place was rocking, and that kind of jolts you in the middle of July. I think that was good for our young guys.”
I guess I’ll just have to go find some cool, mountainous hikes outside Boston somewhere.