Now that we got those terrible puns out of the way, how about that game, eh? The Celtics went into a hostile environment in Utah (always a tough place to play) and used everything they had to edge out the Jazz. This game was perfect for Celtic and NBA basketball fans alike. It had lead changes, drama, near-fisticuffs, referee berating, and two opposing players duking it out.
Al Jefferson and Ray Allen found themselves in a sorta head-to-head matchup as they helped their respective teams trade baskets until the final horn blew. Jefferson dominated the paint tonight, finishing the game with 28 points and 19 boards. It’s really too bad Jefferson and Kevin Love couldn’t co-exist in Minnesota; there just aren’t enough rebounds in an NBA season for the both of them.
Jefferson was so dominant tonight, you almost caught yourself saying, “what if?”…That is, until your eye caught Kevin Garnett and you remembered his words of wisdom, “anything is possible.” Yeah. Utah can have Big Al.
On the other side, Ray Allen had it going on tonight. He was really everywhere, doing things that Celtics fans are not used to seeing him do. I’m talking about coming off ball screens and taking heavily contested three pointers, pulling up in transition after running full speed without any Celtics underneath for offensive rebound insurance, and playing the passing lanes with Rondo-like efficiency. Overall, Allen scored 25 points on 5-of-8 shooting from distance and had 2 steals to boot.
Every starter tonight (Nenad Krstic included) showed something that made you think that this team is the favorite to reach the finals. Both Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett had double-doubles (Garnett’s third straight), Paul Pierce dominated the second quarter, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the period and single-handily keeping the Celtics in the game after an underwhelming performance from the bench. Krstic may not have had the individually impressive game he had against the Clippers but he was just as effective, if not more so. Kurly finished the game with 11 points and 5 rebounds despite not having the touch from the outside.
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It was trench warfare in Utah last night. Despite both teams enjoying double digit scoring runs in the early going, when this game got close in the second, it stayed close throughout. The starters built a comfortable lead by the end of the first and then, as customary, the Celtics’ bench entered the game and quickly let that lead dissipate.
It’s not their fault. The Celtics’ bench is grossly incomplete right now. Mainstays like Delonte West, Shaquille O’Neal, and Jermaine O’Neal are out right now which means the Celtics need to rely on rookies Avery Bradley and Chris Johnson to provide quality minutes book-ending the lineup. Bradley’s performance was passable, but Johnson proved too thin for the Jazz’ bulky front court and got pushed around too much, eliminating any consideration for more playing time.
After the bench came in and made it close again, the starters could not build the lead back up. By the time they got their chance to try, the Jazz had hit their stride offensively. The Celtics expended a ton of energy on the defensive end at the start of the third quarter. The plan was to wear down the Jazz with the Celtics’ suffocating D and then running their offense on the other end. The Celtics quickly realized that using all of their energy on one end of the court caused their offense to sputter. So, they switched it up. Slacked a little on D, and started getting easy baskets.
Although not always an exact science, last night the Celtics were able to ramp up their offensive intensity by sacrificing some on the defensive end. This translated to effectively trading baskets with the Jazz until the fourth quarter. Until Ray Allen went from playing awesomely, to flat out unconscious. Here’s Ray after one particular play in which he dribbled right off of a KG ball screen and just pulled up for a three right in Paul Milsap’s face. On his way up the court, he destroyed Milsap with what I can only guess is the look he gives his kids when he wants them to feel contrite:
Ultimately, the Celtics were the beneficiaries of a few swings of momentum that allowed them to win this game. The moment in the forefront of everyone’s mind is the non-call foul on KG (Garnett absolutely hacks Andrei Kirilenko on the arm) which led to a pull up transition three from Allen. Not only was this three points and a difficult shot, but also completely heart-removing for the Jazz.
Even with these favorable Celtic momentum shifts, the Jazz stayed in the game, stayed engaged, and made the Celtics play until the final buzzer. When it was all said and done, the Celtics hit their freethrows and defeated the Jazz.
See the upper right hand corner? Priceless.
And here’s a montage of hilarious Jazz fans who just happen to have the best second half seats in the house: