NBA seasons often are trial by fire, and it’s clear the Boston Celtics still are figuring themselves out.
The Celtics have shown flashes of brilliance early in the campaign, including Friday’s thrilling overtime win over the Toronto Raptors. But they’ve also turned in some flat-out duds, including the recent West Coast road trip and Saturday’s 98-86 loss to the Utah Jazz at TD Garden.
The Jazz were the early aggressors in the teams’ final regular-season meeting of the 2018-19 set, but the Celtics punched back in the second quarter, effectively stealing back the momentum. That juice only lasted so long, however, as Utah stomped on Boston in the second half and cruised to a road win.
Third quarters, especially, continue to plague Boston, and it was no different Saturday night when the Jazz outscored the green 27-17 in the frame. Head coach Brad Stevens is well aware of the issue, which could end up prompting a lineup change.
“Well today it felt like, I mean, we didn’t make free throws,” Stevens said, as seen during NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics postgame coverage. “When you don’t make free throws, you don’t make wide, wide open shots, that’s going to be a struggle. It affected our defense there and it took away our hope, I thought. But we might have to continue to figure out our best groups moving forward.”
With Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum likely all locks for the starting five, Gordon Hayward or Jaylen Brown probably would be the odd-man out, should a tweak take place. And considering how strong Marcus Morris has been this season, promoting the veteran forward to a starting role would seem like a logical move.
But Stevens has proved to be a wizard when it comes to mixing and matching, and he’s never been afraid to make a big move. With that mind, we’ll just have to wait and see what the C’s head man comes up with.
Here are some other notes from Saturday’s Celtics-Jazz game:
— Guerschon Yabusele and Brad Wanamaker made surprise appearances in the fourth quarter with the Celtics down 18 and 8:58 remaining. Boston responded, going on a quick 6-0 run to provide the home team with some life. When asked why he made the move, Stevens had a simple answer.
“Energy, and we got it,” Stevens said. “That was probably the only stretch of nine minutes that we won, other than the first quarter. I felt really good about how that group competed and played. I just told the group that Guerschon was in the right spot on everything and didn’t do any of the walkthroughs. Those guys watch a lot and deserve an opportunity to compete especially when it doesn’t look like when we have it with the rest of the group.”
— As Stevens mentioned, the Celtics struggled mightily on free throws to the tune of an 11-20 mark from the charity stripe. Missing free throws can be contagious, but Stevens isn’t buying that excuse.
“Not on great teams it’s not,” Stevens said. “Great teams get over it.”
— Boston only saw two players log double figures. Irving scored a team-high 20 points, while Tatum chipped in 10.
— The Celtics also experienced considerable struggles from range, posting a dreadful 15 percent (5-of-33) clip on 3-pointers.
— The Jazz swept the regular-season series with the Celtics in a span of eight days.
Thumbnail photo via Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY Sports