When Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown grabbed his own miss and scored a put-back to make it a four-point game late Tuesday night, you might have thought you were in for a nail-biter.
Sorry to disappoint.
Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz didn’t even give you time to get your fingers to your mouth before you were raising your hands in celebration.
Bojan Bogdanovic hit the first 3.
Mitchell drilled the next one.
Joe Ingles pulled up in transition for 3 more.
Then Mitchell sank one from 30 feet to put his team back up by double-digits, cruising to 122-108 victory in front of 3,900 cheering fans at Vivint Arena.
Mitchell scored a game-high 36 points and dished out nine assists. The Jazz (20-5) have now won five in a row, 16 of their last 17, and matched the best start in franchise history.
“Our mindset has been great, to be able to lock in even more when it really matters at the end of games,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said after going for 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. “It’s something that the great teams are able to do. I really feel like we’ve been able to do that this year. And there’s still another level we can reach.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) February 10, 2021
The Jazz entered the night looking for ways to keep the Celtics young, star wings, Brown and Jayson Tatum, and a good Boston team in check.
“They do a good job of hunting mismatches,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Any time you have guys that can create like that and get their own shot, it’s really important to make those shots hard and to defend them collectively. That’s the biggest thing. Try to make them do things they’re not as comfortable doing, which is hard to do because they’re really good and they’re comfortable doing a lot. They don’t have holes in their games.”
Brown scored 33 points and Tatum had 23—but forward Daniel Theis (15 points) was the only other Celtic to reach double figures.
Behind 11 points from Brown, the Celtics claimed a 27-24 lead after one quarter.
The Jazz defense would hold Boston to just 20 points in the second. The Jazz shot just 30 percent form 3 in the first half, but still managed to take a 48-47 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Mitchell got cooking in the third quarter, scoring 14 of his points in the period.
Starting in place of an injured Mike Conley (right hamstring tightness), Ingles went for 24 points and six assists.
“We’ve always had the same next-man-up mentality,” Ingles said. “It’s not on one guy to go out there. But with Mike being out in that specific situation, I know I’m going to have the ball in my hands a bit more at times with that second unit. Honestly, I was trying to get JC (Jordan Clarkson) going for most of it, trying to find some ways to get him an easy look.”
Clarkson missed his first six looks from behind the arc. But late in the third, the Jazz’s sixth man was fouled while draining a 3 in the corner. On the next possession, Clarkson sank another triple to help give the Jazz a 90-79 advantage heading into the fourth.
The Celtics would not go quietly. After trailing by as much as 14, Brown’s second-chance bucket cut the Jazz lead down to four midway through the final quarter.
That’s when the Jazz did what they do best, locking down defensively and getting open looks from 3.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens compared this Utah Jazz team to one of the San Antonio Spurs title-winning squads
“No matter what you try to take away, they’ve got answers for it,” Stevens said. “They’re a really good team. If you look at how they play against traditional coverages from a pick-and-roll standpoint, even in isolation, they still end up getting what they ultimately want, which is committing to the ball, over-helping, be late to help and then that thing gets spraying around. They’ve got excellent one-on-one players and then they’ve got a ton of guys that shoot shit, move it or drive it.
“I think this is the closest team to the ’14 Spurs that we’ve played with how the ball moves and how quickly the right decision is made. The ball doesn’t’ stick.”
The Celtics arrival in Salt Lake this week marked the start of a difficult stretch for the Jazz. The team will play seven of their next eight games against playoff teams from a season ago.
“As you play against some of these teams picked to win it, picked high before the season, some of the best teams in the league … it’s an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves,” Snyder said. “It’s a long season. We’re a good chunk into it, but we’re not even halfway yet. That competition is always an opportunity to find out more about who you are, whether you win or lose. You are never a finished product. We want to stay focused on continuing to improve regardless of what that looks like in the win-loss columns.”
Utah Jazz rookie Udoka Azubuike is about to start the next chapter in his NBA journey, as he and the Salt Lake City Stars get to work in the G League Bubble in Orlando this week.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder believes the assignment will be critical for the center out of Kansas.
“This year may be even more important because of the shortened training camp, no summer [with the team],” Snyder said of the rookie’s assignment. “This is the first time in a long time that some of those guys have had an opportunity to really compete and play major minutes and settle in. That competition is essential to players getting better.”
Azubuike appeared in 12 regular season games before joining the Stars. He averaged 1 point and 1.1 rebounds in 4 minutes of playing time.
“This is an opportunity for growth for him,” Snyder said. “We’ll have a chance to see him and support him and coach him. And I know he’s excited to have a chance to compete.”
The Jazz will host another one of the East’s elite teams when Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks come to town on Friday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Vivint Arena.