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Utah Jazz vs. Boston Celtics Game Preview: A tale of two paces

Game 54: Celtics (32-23) @ Jazz (26-27)
Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
Time: 8:30 p.m. (MT)
TV: ESPN / ROOT Sports • Radio: 1280 AM / 97.5 FM

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz host the Boston Celtics tonight in what looks to be a very memorable game. It's the second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz, and will be their 12th back-to-back set out of 18 total this year. And the funny thing is that this wouldn't have even been a back-to-back set if the weather permitted late in January to have the Jazz play the Washington Wizards back then. Utah has been okay against the East so far this season, being 8-2 at home and 12-9 overall. That should help on paper, but Utah has had a lot of trouble with the Boston Celtics on the court of late. Utah is only 37-53 against Boston, and thankfully 26-19 at home, but that didn't matter at all last season as they were swept by the Cs and the Jazz are 1-8 against them in the Gordon Hayward era.

But tonight should still be memorable as it's the reunification of three major icons of recent Butler NCAA Basketball: Hayward, newly added Jazz point guard Shelvin Mack, and current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. Of course, because nothing is ever easy this season, Shelvin isn't going to play tonight as he can't until all players involved in the trade that brought him to Utah clear their physicals for their teams respectively (Kirk Hinrich with the Atlanta Hawks, Justin Holiday with the Chicago Bulls). Still, that's a happy moment in the making.

Less happy should be this challenging game. The Celtics are the 3rd best team in their conference and are very hot right now, winning 5 of their last 6 games; 10 of their last 12; and 13 of their last 17. They have knocked off Western Conference teams like the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, and the Los Angeles Clippers (in OT on the road) during this stretch of play. They start off a West trip (Utah, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves) against the Jazz and this is their first game back since the All-Star Break.

Coach Stevens has them playing a very up and down game (3rd fastest pace in the league) that results in a team that averages 105.7 ppg (4th best). Outside of pace of play they are remarkably efficient. They are 9th in ORTG at 106.4, and 3rd in DRTG at only 102.2. They win their games by an actual scoreboard margin of 4.2 points. They force a lot of turn overs which fuel their pace of play. They crash the boards on offense and find ways to get to the line. Overall they are pulling down 45 rebounds a night, and take nearly 30 threes a game. They have great close out discipline, and only two teams shut down opponent's threes better than they do. They may not be the most perfect team out there (they do put the other team on the line a lot as well, and don't take care of the defensive glass as much as they should), but right now they are playing great.

There are eight players averaging at least 20 mpg for them, and all of them are averaging at least 7.5 ppg. (This doesn't include David Lee, who looks like he's going to be bought out, who did put up averages of 15.7 mpg and 7.1 ppg this season.) And even at full health, the Jazz would have trouble keeping up with their stable of athletes. Tonight has to be a game where the Jazz work the glass, and slow this game down. Otherwise we're going to end up seeing a lot of transition points for Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Evan Turner, and Marcus Smart. Utah is at a disadvantage tonight with no Dante Exum (PG/SG) no Alec Burks (SG/PG), and no Shelvin Mack (PG/SG).

On the flip side the Celtics will be without Kelly Olynyk -- and I don't think Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson can handle Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Then again, I didn't think Marcin Gortat and Nene could handle them, but I was proven wrong last night.

Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood are stellar players, but Isaiah Thomas was an All-Star. If Boston determines the pace of play and can harry our ball handlers into even more turn overs (Hood had 5 last night, Favors had 4, Raul Neto had 4, Hayward had 2, Trey Burke had 2, Gobert had 2, the team had 23 overall) it could end up looking a lot like last night's game quickly.

Utah has to slow it down, and execute. This means making solid screens, smart cuts, and passes that lead to our guys actually catching the ball. I can't believe that the Jazz have decided to play some really sloppy, inconsistent ball over the last two games. It really needs to stop. For reals. I don't want to invest several hours a week worrying about the lottery this year. I think this team has to end up playing better. There should be fewer excuses at this point in time.

I believe in this team. And at some point they have to start believing in themselves as well. A good place to start would be tonight, beating the third best team in the East, at home, on the second night of a back-to-back. We've seen this franchise claw it's way up from horrible to average. It's time to start showing the world that we're actually good.

Also, you seriously don't want to lose AGAIN to the Celtics at home, right? On National TV? (ESPN)????