After coming out on top against Portland Trail BlazersThe Boston Celtics made it two straight and three of their first four on a six-game road trip. Now, Joe Mazzulla and his team have to avoid a trap game if they want to get 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 everything to play for as they currently sit tied for 10th place (and the final play-in spot) with Los Angeles Lakers.
As such, we should expect a well-contested game with both teams looking to wrest victory from the other — something we probably didn’t expect when looking at the schedule to start 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 have been guilty of playing against their competition this season; in fact, this has been a consistent theme in this core for several years at this point. However, in Boston only 1.5 games behind Milwaukee Bucksoccupying the first seed in the NBA, now is not the time to enter an arena thinking you’ve got the win in the bag.
Hopefully, the Celtics will learn from their recent loss to Houston Rockets and look to control the game…for the whole game! The Jazz may not have Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert to call upon, but they are a well-coached unit that plays with heart and hustle.
On top of that, losing a host of rotation players is 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 no disrespect to Utah, now is the time to start winning the games you need to play and build some momentum to get you into the postseason.
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure!
Utah doesn’t boast a physical big that can stop rim drives, nor do they have an elite defense (ranked 24th in the NBA). Because of this, 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 like they have a similar mindset. By deciding on a defensive system that fits their rotation and sticking with it, Boston can be a disruptive force, especially if they use their size and length by helping, digging, and tagging in. each property.
Sometimes, depending on your opponent, it is better to play a more methodical game, where the chess pieces are moved to each pair of properties. However, in a game like this, forcing the game down their throats seems to make perfect sense, especially when you’re the better and more experienced team.
Clog The Corners
Utah currently ranks third in the NBA for their corner threes shooting success rate, converting 41.8% of their attempts. The Celtics are 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 main offensive weapons and force them into some uncomfortable situations. However, Boston cannot rest on their laurels and will need to be aware of the fact that the Jazz are shooting 10% of their threes from the corner and will look to punish any defensive lapses.
If Boston can force Utah to take perimeter-based threes, which they do 30.5% of the time, then they’ll be in a good spot, as the Jazz are converting just 34.6% of their non-corner shots. three-point attempt, good for 22nd. in the NBA.
After Saturday’s game against the Jazz, Boston will have an unenviable task to deal with Sacramento Kings on their home court. So, a loss to Utah is their best chance to make sure they return to Boston with a winning record, regardless of what happens in Sac-Town.
Furthermore, at this point in the season, every win counts, whether it’s for momentum, seeding, or simply fine-tuning your schemes in preparation for bigger matches ahead. In their last two games, the Celtics have found a way to win, but now, they have to figure out how to dominate.