Celtics vs. Jazz: three things to look for
After coming out on top against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Boston Celtics have made it two wins in a row and three of their first four of a six-game road trip. Now, Joe Mazzulla and his team will have to avoid a trap game if they want to secure a winning record on their final road swing of the regular season.
On Saturday, March 18, the Celtics will face former assistant coach Will Hardy and his Utah Jazz team for the first time this season, and the Western Conference franchise has it all to play for as they currently sit tied for 10th place (and the final play-in spot) with the Los Angeles Lakers.
As such, we should expect a well-fought game with both teams looking to snatch victory away from the other — something we probably didn’t expect when looking at the schedule to begin the season, but here we are. With all that being said, here are 3 things to look for in Saturday’s game.
Avoid the trap game
There’s no denying that the Celtics are guilty of playing down to their competition this season; in fact, it’s been a consistent theme with this core for a few years at this point. Yet, with Boston just 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who occupy the first seed in the NBA, now isn’t the time to walk into an arena thinking you’ve got the win in the bag.
Hopefully, the Celtics can learn from their recent loss to the Houston Rockets and look to control the game…for the entire game! The Jazz might not have Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert to call upon anymore, but they’re a well-coached unit that plays with heart and hustle.
Furthermore, missing a host of rotation players should be another reason for the Celtics to play hard — after all, there are playoff minutes to earn and rotations to solidify. We’re in the final stretch of the season, and with no disrespect to Utah, now is the time to start winning the games you’re supposed to and building some momentum to carry you into the postseason.
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure!
Utah doesn’t boast a physically imposing big who can deter drives to the rim, nor do they have an elite defense (ranked 24th in the NBA). As such, the Celtics should look to apply pressure on every possession. Paint touches, rim pressure, inside-out play, screening actions, whatever it takes to throw the Jazz off their defensive game.
Defensively, the Celtics should look to have a similar mentality. By deciding on a defensive system that suits their rotation and sticking to it, Boston can be a disruptive force, especially if they utilize their size and length by helping, digging, and tagging on every possession.
Sometimes, depending on your opponent, it’s better to play a more methodical game, where chess pieces are being moved every couple of possessions. Yet, in a game like this, forcing the game down their throats seems to make perfect sense, especially when you’re the more talented and experienced team.
Clog The Corners
Utah is currently ranked third in the NBA for their success rate when shooting corner threes, converting 41.8% of their attempts. The Celtics sit second in the NBA defending corner threes, limiting their opponents to a 35.5% success rate.
Therefore, the Celtics should be well-positioned to take away one of Utah’s primary offensive weapons and force them into some uncomfortable situations. However, Boston can’t rest on their laurels and will need to be cognizant of the fact that the Jazz takes 10% of their threes from the corner and will look to punish any lackadaisical defense.
If Boston can force Utah into taking perimeter-based threes, which they do 30.5% of the time, then they will be in a good spot, as the Jazz only convert 34.6% of their non-corner three-point attempts, good for 22nd in the NBA.
After Saturday’s game against the Jazz, Boston will have the unenviable task of facing the Sacramento Kings on their home court. So, beating Utah is their best chance of ensuring they head back to Boston with a winning record, regardless of how things go in Sac-Town.
Furthermore, at this point in the season, every win matters, be it for momentum, seeding, or simply fine-tuning your schemes in preparation for the bigger battles ahead. In their last two games, the Celtics have found a way to win, but now, they need to remember how to dominate.