The Boston Celtics looked like a team at the end of a treacherous five-game western conference road trip on Tuesday night. They also ran into the hottest team in the NBA in Utah. The Jazz used a 42-32 third quarter to stretch a one point halftime lead to 11 after three quarters. While a tired Boston team tried to make a push, it never got closer than 4 in the final quarter as Utah pulled away for a 122-108 victory.
Taking the Celtics glasses off for a moment, the Jazz deserved a ton of the credit for how the final score looked. Sure, Brad Stevens won’t be happy with the pick-and-roll defense and the attention to shooters at times, but Quin Snyder and the Jazz are playing like a team that believes they are contenders. Over the last few weeks, they’ve turned doubters into believers.
The Jazz picked up their league-leading 20th win with a lethal combination of timely threes and interior defense, while outrebounding the Celtics by six. Rudy Gobert looked like the NBA Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner, altering shots left and right while living up his “Stifle Tower” nickname. The Frenchman finished with 18 points on 8-9 from the field, most of which came off of pick-and-roll slams. He also tacked on a game-high 12 rebounds.
Donovan Mitchell came in as the closer, as he often does for the western conference leaders. The former Louisville star scored or assisted on the final 10 Jazz points, while finishing with a game-high 36 points.
While he may not end up on SportsCenter every night, Joe Ingles once again put in an excellent shift at the office. The Australian was a pick-and-roll maestro, conducting Gobert and wreaking havoc on a Celtics team that struggled to stop the duo. Ingles not only found threes in pick-and-roll but also in transition, including an early dagger to put Utah up 111-104 with 3 minutes left. He finished with 24 key points on the night.
For the Celtics, it felt as though the tail end of a five-game road trip against the western conference’s best resulted in tired legs down the stretch. Jaylen Brown returned to the lineup after missing two straight games with knee soreness and he continued to play at an all-star level. Scoring 9 of the games first 11 points, he finished with a team-high 33 points on an efficient 12-20 night from the field.
For Boston, surprise offensive production came from Daniel Theis, who caught fire with five made threes on six tries to end up with 15 points. The German fouled out with 5:23 left and the Celtics down 5 in what proved to be a true dagger. With Theis, Boston could stretch Gobert out of the lane and have a fighting chance at the rim. With Tristan Thompson? Not so much.
Ultimately, Utah’s two stars were the best players on the floor in the fourth quarter as the Jazz looked fresh in Salt Lake City.
The good news for the 12-11 Celtics is that they finally return home to the friendly confines of TD Garden on Thursday to battle Toronto.