Celtics hang tough, but fall to Utah, 117-109

The Jazz, who lead the NBA in 3-point makes — they’re also third in percentage — have beaten most teams this season without really having to worry about what they do in the paint.

The Celtics, after Tuesday night’s 117-109 loss to the Jazz, have now been victimized by that fact twice this season by the team that still has the best record in the NBA.

“I think just from what I’ve watched this year, they make people pay more than anybody else in the league as a team,” said Brad Stevens. “There’s certain individuals across the league that make you pay every time you make a mistake, but they make you pay every time as a team.”

The Jazz shot 19-for-43 from downtown (44.2%), in stark contrast to the Celtics’ 10-for-29 (34.5%) number. In the end, the disparity was just too much to overcome.

The Celtics didn’t help themselves too much in the paint, either, as evidenced by their 3-for-4 free throw number by the end of the game.

But after two straight losses when they were simply outclassed by the other side — Brooklyn may be on the verge of overtaking the Jazz in terms of offensive firepower — the Celtics still have much to learn if they’re ever going to improve.

“I like how we played,” said Jaylen Brown. “Less concerned with Brooklyn and Utah and trying to catch them, and more about just trying to be the best version of ourselves. Obviously those are two really good teams and we feel like we can compete, especially when it comes down to the end.

“But we’ve still got a lot of growth to do,” he said. “I thought we played a good game, but we just needed a little more energy, a little more oomph. It was a little dead, a little quiet. These types of games, we miss our fans and the best sixth man in the world, but we’ve got to find our energy at times when everything is kind of dull.”

Subsequently wasted were a pair of efficient nights from Jayson Tatum (29 points, 12-for-24) and Brown (28, 12-for-21). Kemba Walker, still in search of his own groove, was 2-for-7 from downtown as part of his 16-point performance.

But based on what was happening down the other end, Stevens could do little more than wish that his players had been able to better track Utah’s shooters. The Jazz are so good, according to the Celtics coach, that they almost always make the right decision.

So throw out Utah’s six-turnover first quarter, when the Celtics played their best defense of the night. The C’s simply couldn’t keep up once Utah’s ball movement started to click.

“Well, first of all, they shoot it super freely, they’ve done a great job of saying we’re gonna let it fly, no matter the time of the game, no matter the guy,” said Stevens. “All those guys are exceptionally skilled that play. There’s not a guy out there that’s not skilled. Very good passers, very good making decisions. And then when you have (Rudy) Gobert, rolling to the rim, you’re in a bad way. I mean, it’s why a lot of teams, including us — in game one, we tried to switch everything and they scored 122 on us because they isolated us, drove us and kicked us or shook and raised from three and then Gobert got going late cause he just hit low and roll.”

The Celtics pushed Utah to the end, leading (79-77) at the start of the fourth quarter, which the Jazz opened with a 13-2 run that featured some of that rolling by Gobert that so impressed Stevens.

From there the Jazz simply hit too many big shots down the stretch, including seven 3-pointers — two each from Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, including back-to-back bombs from this twosome that created just enough space (104-97) with 3:23 left.

Tatum had just cut the Jazz lead to a point with a finger roll. And when Mitchell came back with Utah’s 19 trey two minutes later for a six-point lead, the Celtics finally collapsed from shellshock.

They’re not capable of this kind of steady shot-making, at least not right now.

“It’s something that we have to do more of. It’s not the movement, it’s the timing,” said Brown. “We probably have to get it out of our hands quicker. Half a second can make the biggest difference. Making the right play, right on time is important for us. I know I’ve gotten better at that as the season has gone on and I’m going to continue to get better at it. We have to continue to get better as a team.”

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