SALT LAKE CITY – If you keep playing with fire, you’re gonna get burned.
The Boston Celtics learned that lesson the hard way Friday night in Salt Lake City while falling 123-115 to the Jazz.
For the second time in as many nights, Boston fell behind by 20 points during the second half. For the second time in as many nights, it staged a comeback. This time, however, it came up short.
After overcoming a 22-point deficit Thursday night to down the Suns in Phoenix, the Celtics clawed back from 20 points down to pull within four on five separate occasions during the final eight minutes of Friday’s matchup with the Jazz. That’s as close as they got, as Utah answered with a bucket each and every time.
Certainly, the fact that the C’s were able to fight back into two straight games stands as a positive. It does not, however, overshadow the fact that the team has built sizable deficits in the first place.
This time around, Boston allowed the Jazz to catch fire early and to maintain a hot stroke well into the second half. The Jazz shot 60.5 percent from the field during the first half and then rattled off a 12-2 run early in the third quarter to open up an 18-point lead.
“You know, those runs, you can’t let (happen) in the NBA,” Brad Stevens said after the game. He referenced three spurts from Utah before adding, “Just can’t have those. Put you in too big of a hole.”
It’s not often in this league that a team can crawl out of 20-point holes, so the Celtics need to avoid them moving forward. A key to doing so will be slowing down the opponent’s top scoring threats.
During Boston’s last three games, at least one top scoring threat from the opposing team has notched at least 27 points. Jamal Murray scored 48 for Denver, Devin Booker scored 38 for Phoenix, and Joe Ingles scored 27 for Utah. That isn’t sitting well with the C’s.
“We’re letting guys that we know are going to do certain things do those things,” he said after the game, according to Jay King of The Athletic. “That’s a slap across Brad’s face and this coaching staff who spends countless hours, countless days, preparing us and giving us the tools we need to go out there and to cut that off.”
That trend has Stevens wondering what’s going to happen Sunday evening in Portland, when the Celtics will take on the 9-3 Trail Blazers.
“Obviously with (Damian) Lillard and (C.J.) McCollum next,” he said, “they’re probably licking their chops on us right now.”
Really, it’s the Celtics who should be licking their chops to get back onto the court and fix what has dogged them of late.
Their defense simply hasn’t been good enough. They have allowed opposing teams to build huge leads that are nearly always insurmountable. They have allowed opposing scorers to score in bulk. That doesn’t cut it against quality opponents.
“It’s tough to beat a good team if you pay 36 minutes of good basketball,” Stevens said.
It’s time for the Celtics to play 48 minutes of quality basketball and see where that takes them. It’s time for them to throw some water on that fire and step away.