The Boston Celtics (20-14) versus the Utah Jazz (22-13), in recent years, has kind of been more of a hot topic than in years past. Primarily because of the Celts hire of Brad Stevens, a coach some Jazz fans coveted and who has ties with Gordon Hayward, making every off-season from now on a will-he-or-won’t-he dance-a-thon. That’s for the off-season though, here are five things to watch for tonight’s game:
1) Horford vs. Gobert
Al Horford is one skilled big man, and a perfect fit for this Brad Stevens team. He can hit the outside shot this year, he has playmaking skills, and he has a high basketball IQ. Which might pose a problem for Gobert, as the Celtics have the tools to draw him out of the paint so that he can’t defend the basket (a la Brooklyn tried to do). So what will Snyder come up with to make sure Gobert can still anchor the D, but in a way that doesn’t open up a whole gluttony of mid-range jumpers for Horford (as, yes, he will make those).
Unless Gobert defends Amir Johnson and Derrick Favors gets tasked with Horford, of course. Which opens up a whole new can of worms in itself (as Favors isn’t moving well). Never mind when 3pt shooters like Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko come in.
2) Defensive Specialists
Defensive specialists can make a name for themselves in the league, especially if they have a semblance of offense. Which definitely goes for both Celtics wingmen, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. They can score, but they are (or, were, up until this year) primarily known for their defensive prowess. They will also be tagged with defending the two best scorers on the Jazz, Hood and Hayward, so something’s gotta give.
Celtics are a prime example of small ball, with Horford being a 6’10 center, and with Isiah Thomas and Avery Bradley forming a pretty small back court. And even if Bradley is out (illness, but expected to play), he will likely be replaced by the not much taller Smart.
Compare that to the hugeness of the Jazz, with Favors and Gobert, and with Hood and Hill. Hood versus Bradley is going to be interesting especially, because you could argue that Hood can just shoot over Avery with that straight up shot of his. Then again, like mentioned in the previous point, Bradley is a defensive specialist, so do you really want to try and exploit a one-on-one against a player known for his dogged D (however much height he’s giving up).
Not to mention if Dante Exum plays (I’m betting no, but still) and he gets matched-up with Isiah Thomas. Will his 6’6 help Thomas not going off for 50+ points like against the Heat some days ago (on 9-for-13 from 3pt land and 13-for-13 from the charity stripe no less).
4) Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and why healthy isn’t a binary state
Derrick Favors, not so much moving well. Alec Burks, not so much accustomed to the pace of an NBA game yet. For months now we have been awaiting the grand return to action of both (with Favors returning a while back), but now that they’re back, we’re not so sure anymore. Because, quite simply, they’re not looking right.
Now, for Burks, that is a small sample size right there. But anytime your first action is getting yourself caught in the air and travelling, you aren’t flying high just yet. The game needs to slow down again (or the body needs to start doing things at its ye-olden pace) for him, and that is going to take a while. As, you know, he’s been out since yonks.
Favors came back, kind of looked good, and now not so much. Some people are speculating it has to do with him beefing up, but during pre-season he looked absolutely amazing, and now he is moving like Robert “Tractor” Traylor in his final season. One thing is for sure, he ain’t looking right, and will that get better by playing (like with Burks it undoubtedly will), or is the best thing to shut him down as soon as George Hill is back and Burks can play more than 3mpg at a certain level to give him some more time.
Let’s just remember though….
5) Joe Ingles shaking his YMCA tail feather
Joe Ingles seems to be the Jazz’s Bruce Bowen, but then off the bench. Lately he’s been getting the defensive assignments, he’s been leading the NBA in 3pt %, and against Brooklyn he had the highest +- in the game (versus Hood’s -4).
Plus he can lay the ball in as well, with the Brooklyn announcers praising the YMCA-ness of his I-stretch-my-arm-out-and-just-lay-it-in-right-in-front-of-your-face lay-up at the start of the fourth (to get some daylight in between the Brooklyn and Utah score to never look back ever again).
And I know you want to congratulate him on all of this, but please, no chest bumps, thank you.
The Jazz will need every bit of his hot play to beat the Celtics tonight.