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.