The Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz played a tight, back-and-forth game last night that ended up needing overtime to determine the winner. The Jazz ultimately emerged victorious 139-137 in what was likely a Finals preview.
Offense Rules the Night
Defense was optional in this matchup as both teams routinely exchanged baskets. The Celtics were led by superstar Jayson Tatum who turned in another brilliant performance with 39 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. However, the Jazz had plenty of offensive power themselves behind Donovan Mitchell’s 34 points and Lauri Markkanen’s 31.
It was a very evenly matched game statistically:
As the table shows, both teams shot the ball extremely well, particularly from 3-point range. The Celtics held a slight edge on the glass while the Jazz passed the ball better. Ultimately there wasn’t much separation all game.
Back-and-Forth Second Half
The Celtics held a slim 67-66 lead at halftime. Things remained nip-and-tuck all throughout the second half. Boston pushed their lead to 9 halfway through the third quarter, but Utah responded with 11 straight points to re-take the lead 91-89 heading into the fourth.
The Jazz extended their lead to 105-99 with 7 minutes left. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart then made back-to-back 3 pointers to tie the game. It remained deadlocked the rest of regulation with neither team able to create separation. A Markkanen jumper with 15 seconds left tied it 125-125 to force overtime.
Overtime saw much of the same back-and-forth play. Mitchell’s stepback 3 pointer with 1:30 left put the Jazz up 134-131. Jayson Tatum answered right back to tie it up once more. After a few empty possessions each way, Jordan Clarkson hit a clutch jumper with 9 seconds remaining to give Utah a 136-134 edge.
The Celtics opted not to call timeout and Tatum missed a last-second stepback 3 as time expired.
What This Means Moving Forward
Despite the loss, the Celtics can come away with their heads held high. They went toe-to-toe all night long with the best team in the West. The Jazz are legitimate title contenders and Boston proved they belong in that same conversation.
As these two teams battle towards a potential Finals showdown, they will likely improve. The Celtics should get a boost whenever Robert Williams is able to return from injury. His interior defense and shot blocking were missed against the Jazz scoring barrage.
Utah looks extremely tough to beat currently but will face their own challenges navigating a loaded Western Conference playoff picture. This game showed fans a glimpse of what a Jazz-Celtics Finals could potentially look like. It would be a clash of offensive juggernauts capable of trading haymakers all series long.
Both teams have the benefit of being well-coached and disciplined. Boston’s Joe Mazzulla and Utah’s Will Hardy have done admirable jobs implementing systems that maximize the talents of their star players. With the All-Star break approaching, don’t be surprised if these two teams look even more polished in their next matchup.
For now, Utah maintains the best record in the NBA at 33-11. The loss drops Boston to 28-16, still comfortably in second place in the East. The Celtics will be right back in action tomorrow night against the Brooklyn Nets. That game now takes on added importance to avoid a 2-game skid. Meanwhile the Jazz will put their 6-game winning streak on the line against the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
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