Like Hulk Hogan taking on Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III, the Boston Celtics knew they faced a colossal opponent going into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Utah Jazz, the team with the best record in the NBA.
Unlike the Hulk, the C’s couldn’t kick out before the three count.
A well-oiled machine and the only team that ranks in the league’s top five in offense and defense, the Jazz showcased both in a 117-109 win.
They put six players in double figures. They gunned their way to 19 three-pointers. And they clamped down defensively when it mattered most.
Meanwhile, the Celtics faced a one-point deficit with a little over four minutes to play, but folded down the stretch amid poor decisions, mental errors and bad shots.
Utah’s trio of All-Stars: Donovan Mitchell (a team-best 21 points), Rudy Gobert (16 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks) and Mike Conley (17 points) told their usual tale, but sixth man Jordan Clarkson provided the exclamation points. The seventh-year wing knocked down 5-of-10 three-point attempts, with fellow reserve Joe Ingles draining four threes as Utah’s notorious bench outscored their Boston counterparts, 45-21.
The Green were led by Jayson Tatum with 29 and Jaylen Brown with 28, but multiple Marcus Smart bricks and an offensive foul on Robert Williams took the wind out of Boston’s sails late.
Williams did post an impressive 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes, with some uncharacteristic crunch time burn. Daniel Theis had a robust line with 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
The Celtics started the contest on a 16-5 run, keyed by some hot shooting by Brown (4-of-5 FG) and defensive energy that produced five early turnovers, including the first of two first quarter 24-second violations by the Jazz. But Ingles bombed a couple of threes and Utah clawed back, departing the first quarter trailing by just two.
The early Boston lead evaporated completely early in the second quarter, and while Theis stepped forward as an eager offensive contributor (two jumpers and a dunk), a Clarkson heater helped push Utah to a 54-53 halftime lead.
The Jazz again faced a two-point deficit after three, but immediately jumped out to a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
Despite attacking the bucket for most of the night, the Celtics attempted just four free throws. Utah made 22 of 24 at the stripe for the game, helping negate a rebounding deficit and a messy 13 first half turnovers.
Boston was without Tristan Thompson, who sat in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols.
The C’s travel to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on the second half of a back-to-back Wednesday night. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. with pregame coverage starting at 7:00 on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.