We’re going to do something a little different with this version of the Takeaways. Boston’s loss to Utah was their third consecutive home defeat. There was some good in there, but there was also a lot of bad. And there was a whole lot of ugly. With that, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from Celtics/Jazz.
· Daniel Theis was Boston’s best player on Friday night. He’s massively undersized against Rudy Gobert, but used his quickness and leverage to limit Gobert’s impact. This play shows Theis’ defense and then his ability to get down the floor. He blocks the shot at the rim and as soon as Boston has possession, Theis sprints the floor for the dunk:
· Grant Williams was part of a miserable night from Boston’s reserves (more on that in Bad section), but he was among the least miserable of the bunch. He does a nice job defending scorers off the bounce. Williams is usually able to keep them in front and then contest a shot, as he does here against Bojan Bogdanovic:
· Jayson Tatum’s shooting could be in the Ugly section, as he was just 7-of-19 on the night. After such a hot month in February, you knew Tatum would level off some. But even on a tough night, Tatum is Boston’s best bet to make something happen in late-clock situations:
· For most of the game, the Jazz shot well over 50%. A cold end to the game dropped Utah down to 45% for the night. That’s both bad and ugly. But Boston was able to hang around because the defense had active hands. The Celtics forced 18 turnovers, which helped lead to 18 fastbreak points.
· Enes Kanter’s pick and roll defense was as bad as it has been all season long. Boston generally asks him to keep it simple and to play drop coverage. Against Utah, Kanter ended up just sort of hanging out in no-man’s land. Kanter doesn’t do anything remotely helpful on this play and actually gets in the way of his teammates from rotating:
On this play he neither drops, nor helps against Mike Conley:
· For the fifth straight game, the Celtics allowed one player to explode offensively. It was Donovan Mitchell when the team met a week prior in Utah. Then Russell Westbrook and Caris LeVert in back-to-back home losses. Then Collin Sexton joined LeVert in going for a career-high in points in the game at Cleveland. And this loss featured Mike Conley, who has struggled all season, putting up a big night.
It’s hard to put those big nights on any one Boston defender. Because of the way the Celtics switch, no one functions as a primary defender on any one opponent. But that could be part of the problem. Marcus Smart is an All-Defense guy. Maybe use him as a stopper when a single opponent is destroying the defense?
· The bench…sigh. After a big night in Cleveland, Boston’s bench was back to being a disaster. Semi Ojeleye started and was solid, if unspectacular. The rest? Ugh. The Jazz reserves outscored their Celtics counterparts by a 39-13 margin. None of the Boston backups made a positive impact, and most were downright bad.
Following the game, the fans readied the pitchforks and torches to go after Brad Wanamaker. It’s hard to disagree, as he was particularly bad. And that was before two horrible misses as Boston was clinging to life late in the fourth quarter. Many want to see a return to green for Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has made it clear on social media that he’s ready. He’s playoff eligible, since he was waived prior to March 1st. Maybe it’s time to call on IT to give the bench a scoring boost?
· Things stated to go downhill for Boston the minute the reserves hit the floor. The end to the first quarter was awful. The Celtics went up 27-16 with 3:38 to play in the first. Over that final three-and-a-half minutes, Utah outscored Boston 14-2. The Celtics would tie the game early in the second quarter, but the Jazz were rolling by that point. Utah immediately took the lead back and never surrendered it again.
· Boston’s good start was on the back of starting 5-of-6 from behind the arc. Tatum, Smart and Ojeleye all knocked down three-pointers in the first five minutes of the game. Over the next 43 minutes, the Celtics shot 5-for-30 from downtown. And many of those were wide-open looks. Cold shooting nights happen, but this one was particularly frigid.
· Ugliest of all? The Celtics offense without Gordon Hayward, and to a lesser degree Jaylen Brown. Brown has become a terrific scorer, but Hayward is the engine that makes the Boston offense go. He’s the best player at hitting the paint, drawing the defense, causing rotations and getting the ball moving.
With Hayward out, it’s a lot more of straight pick and roll and isolation for the Celtics. Boston has talented players like Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker who can score in those situations (both rank near the top of the NBA in scoring on such plays), but the team is best when the ball moves.
· Pull up the box score and take a look at the +/- of the bench players for both Utah and Boston. That’s as ugly as it gets.
Actually, don’t pull up the box score. Enjoy your day and move on to Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City. You can thank me later.