This is it, the big game where the Utah Jazz (22-13) face their first big test of this East road trip (full post here). The Boston Celtics (20-14) are for real this year, and have made a living by beating the Jazz when they visit Beantown. (11-35 All-time, full post here). Their best player is speedy guard Isaiah Thomas, and he is on a tear right now (full post here). But the main thing to remember right now is that just because it’s the second night of a back to back, and the other team is favored and at home, you still have to have hope. This Utah team is pretty fun to watch, and will be on NBA TV tonight! (Hooray, no league pass for Amar). There are lots of things to keep an eye on (Five things to watch here) and lots of great memories have been had so far in this series (Overtone here) . . . but the one thing that everyone is going to be talking about, regardless of the final score of this game, will be “Gordon Hayward should go to the Boston Celtics as a Free Agent.”
And to that I must say: BOOOOOOOO !!!!!
Utah is not giving up The Precious that easily. Just because he’s the most athletic and capable American ‘white guy’ baller in the NBA right now doesn’t mean that the Boston Celtics get ‘prima noctus’ of him when he’s in his peak. That’s straight up Los Angeles Lakers fan logic right there. You’re better than that, Celtics fans.
Anyway, overtones or undertones aside, we do have a game tonight. And it’s going to be a battle of offense against defense. Against the Brooklyn Nets the Jazz had to deal with pace, the fastest team in the league against the slowest. Tonight isn’t so much about pace, as it is focus. Brad Stevens has a great team built to score buckets. Quin Snyder has spent three off-seasons almost entirely focused on defense. What we’re going to see tonight is where those two forces meet and crash against each other.
Boston is on a four game win streak. Utah is on a four game win streak.
Boston is a little dinged up (Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are hurt, James Young and Tyler Zeller are injured). Utah is almost healthy (George Hill and Dante Exum are both out).
The team that wins the battle of the boards and doesn’t get sloppy on offense will have more chances to win this game tonight. Duh. Obvious. But totally true. Especially when you have Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, and Jonas Jerebko going into battle against Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Boris Diaw, and Trey Lyles.
Utah has Joe Johnson as well, who started his career there. So that’s something. You know. It’s a storyline for sure. Maybe it’s not the biggest one. But it’s one for sure.
< pocket sand ! >
Oh yeah, there’s this Isaiah Thomas guy, though. He’s going to be a handful tonight as Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto can’t check him. Utah will have to fight back with the theorized advantage on the wing with Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, and a special appearance by Alec Burks.
It’s going to be a tough, physical game. I hope a fair one where the Jazz have a shot at winning five in a row.
Marquee Match-Up: Bradley vs. Hood
Rodney Hood. SHOW. ME. WHAT. YOU. GOT! (on defense)
X-Factor: Bench Play
Utah has had inconsistent play from their bench, even though we wrote about them quite a bit in the off-season. Boston is getting a boost from theirs. Who knew that in 2017 I’d still be talking about Gerald Green? Well, I am. Green, and others like rookie Jaylen Brown, are finding ways to help the Celtics win games. Their efforts, and the efforts of the entire Celtics bench, must be met and surpassed by the Jazz bench tonight if Utah is going to have a chance to win. I think Ingles is going to make some threes. But guys like Lyles and Burks (?) need to do something as well. The “all-iso” line-up of Mack / Burks / Johnson / Boris Diaw / Favors is crazy right now. Crazy enough to work?
We’ll find out.
But it’s not just about scoring, I think the bench Defense has been really poor over the last few games. Boston has the talent to expose that. That could be where this game is won or lost.