Celtics-Jazz preview: Squeaking out wins

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Celtics-Jazz preview: Squeaking out wins

BOSTON If Doc Rivers had his way, every game would be a Celtics blowout win.

But there is inherent value in winning games that come down to the wire. It strengthens the belief that the Celtics, for all the struggles they have had to start the season, are still mentally tough enough to win close games.

With a 4-3 record, the Celtics' average margin of victory has been just 4.8 points. Only two teams have a closer margin of victory: Sacramento' (2.0 points per win) and Indiana (4.7).

"We're a veteran ball club," said C's guard Jason Terry. "We thrive in situations where it's a tight ball game. We've all been in that situation plenty of times. We know what we have to do to close games out."

Strong defense in the fourth quarter, limiting turnovers and simply playing with greater effort has been vital to Boston finding a way to pull out close wins this season.

All those dynamics will be challenged when the C's host the Utah Jazz tonight. Here are some other keys for the game as the Celtics look for their fifth win in the last six games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Every team has a flaw that the opponent wants to exploit. For the Celtics, it is rebounding. I know . . . shocking. Boston ranks dead last on the glass at 46 rebounds per game. They face a Utah team that once again is among the NBA's best on the boards. Utah hauls in 55 rebounds per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Paul Millsap. Tonight's matchup here offers up a rare treat: two power forwards who are actually ... power forwards. Bass is the better face-up scorer, but you have to give Millsap the edge when it comes to rebounding.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Wilcox isn't putting up huge numbers for the Celtics, but he is contributing in ways that should help ease some of the interior pressure defensively that's squarely on the shoulders of Kevin Garnett. It's well documented how significant the drop-off is when Garnett leaves the game to take a rest. Wilcox is rounding into shape so that Garnett taking a break may not necessarily be as big an issue in the future. "I'm getting there; I'm getting there," Wilcox said. "I just have to keep on grinding man, making sure I do my part to help this team win. When I come in for KG, that means defense and rebounding."

STAT TO TRACK: Both teams have had some pretty good halftime spiels from their coaches, evident by the third quarter being so good to them offensively. Boston averages 25.6 points in the third quarter this season which ranks seventh in the NBA. Meanwhile the Jazz aren't too far behind with 25.2 points in the third quarter which ranks ninth in the league.

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan didn't get a chance to answer one question in his postgame interview before being interrupted by Kyle Lowry, Jared Sullinger, and LeGarrette Blount.

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

BOSTON – The trip to the TD Garden is one that Jared Sullinger has made many times but never like this. 

The former Celtic was back in town with his new team, the Toronto Raptors who signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal after the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer to him and thus made him an unrestricted free agent. 

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“I had a feeling it was going to go that way once they signed big Al (Horford), that they were going to let me go,” Sullinger said prior to Friday’s game.  “We were prepared for it. It is what it is. I’m happy these guys are doing well.”

And he hopes to say the same for himself sometime in the future after undergoing surgery to have a screw inserted in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot – the same foot he had season-ending surgery on during the 2014-2015 season with the Celtics. 

There’s no specific timetable as to when he’ll be back on the floor, and Sullinger is cool with that plan. 

“I don’t know. They’re hiding the protocol from me so I won’t rush; we’ll see,” said Sullinger who is still in a walking boot. 

The 6-foot-9 forward played well in the preseason and solidified himself as the team’s starting power forward. 

Now that he’s out with another injury, he’ll have to once again try and prove himself either later this season when he returns, or this summer when he becomes a free agent again.

For now, Sullinger is happy to be back in town, seeing lots of familiar faces, friends and ex-teammates that he says he still keeps in close contact with. 

“Some of these guys I considered like brothers to me,” Sullinger said. “IT (Isaiah Thomas), Jae Crowder to name a few. So I watch from a distance, I support from a distance. They’re playing well.”

In addition to his former teammates, the lines of communication remained open between him and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens as well. 

Stevens said the two exchanged text messages right before he had foot surgery, and afterwards. 

“Obviously, everyone here wishes a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back on the court soon,” Stevens said. 

Sullinger has been an effective player during his time in the NBA, with career averages of 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. 

But this will be the third time in his five NBA seasons that he will miss a significant amount of time on the court due to an injury or recovering from an injury. 

Stevens acknowledged that he feels for Sullinger who once again has to go through rehabilitation in order to get back on the floor.

“I like Jared a lot,” Stevens said. “He’s a heck of a player, he’s a really smart guy. Got a lot of respect for him and it stinks that he’s got to go through that but he’ll come back strong I’m sure.”