Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Utah Jazz

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Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Utah Jazz

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The Rajon Rondo-Deron Williams point guard matchup is too obvious to ignore during the build-up to tonight's game between Boston and Utah.

But in all likelihood, it will be the play of the bigs that'll determine the outcome.

And unlike most of the Celtics games this season, the C's won't come into this one with a decisive edge up front.

The Jazz boast a frontline that includes Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur and former Celtic, Al Jefferson.

"As far as size and talent and skill . . . they're pretty good," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

That kind of quality depth allows them to be a physical team, evident by the Jazz averaging 24.4 fouls committed per game on the road - tops among teams in the NBA this season.

That means a number of Boston's big men may find themselves at the free throw line more often.

Normally that would be something to cringe about, especially when you think about Shaquille O'Neal.

But lately, the Big Shamrock has been knocking down the freebies.

O'Neal is shooting 55.9 percent from the free throw line this season. In his last five games, Shaq has been almost Ray Allen-like from the line, converting 11 of his last 14 attempts (78.6 percent).

Free throw shooting could be the difference, especially against a Utah team that has been at its best this season in close games.

Utah has won its last five games decided by three points or less, the longest current streak of any NBA team. And don't let tonight's game into overtime.

The Jazz have been just as dominate, winning its last seven regular season games that went into overtime, the longest such streak in the NBA.

And that success in close games is fueled in large part by the play of Williams, considered by some as the top point guard in the NBA.

He is averaging 22.1 points and 9.5 assists per game. In the past 18 seasons, the only player to finish the season with numbers that impressive was New Orleans guard Chris Paul, who averaged 22.8 points and 11 assists per game during the 2008-09 season.

"He's terrific. He's a powerful guard," Rivers said. "He plays at an unbelievable tempo. What sets him apart, is he's the best shooting point guard of the group, of all those guards. That's what makes him so good."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

BOSTON –  Devin Booker went on a scoring binge for the ages against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, the likes of which won’t be seen anytime soon at the TD Garden.

The performance was so great, even the most die-hard Green Teamers had to give the 20-year-old props for dropping 70 points – 70 points! – on the Celtics who still wound up winning, 130-120.

And as Booker continued to pour on the points and the Celtics’ double-digit lead remained just that, a double-digit lead, the narrative of what we witnessed was a lot deeper than just some young kid getting hot.

The Suns are trying lose as many games as they can, while throwing youngsters out there like Booker to play major minutes and predictably make their share of mistakes with the goal being to learn from those miscues and get better.

But the true lesson in what went down Friday night had little to do with Booker’s big night or some Celtics being a little salty about it afterwards.

Lost in all of the hoopla surrounding Booker’s big night was the repeated revelation by Celtics head coach Brad Stevens after the game about his team’s play and their record not being on one accord.

“That’s why, like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”

And Booker’s historic night is the latest example to illustrate Stevens’ point.

Not having Avery Bradley (sickness) was a factor, obviously.

But that’s no excuse for the way they allowed Booker to do anything and everything he wanted to on the floor, allowing a really good shooter to gain confidence to the point where there was literally nothing the Celtics could do to cool him off.

The Celtics looked casual for three-plus quarters defensively against the Suns and still managed to win which says more about Phoenix and its desire to lose as much as possible, than Boston’s ability to find success and overcome a player with a hot hand.

It was another case of Boston getting away from what works while settling into what felt good and easy.

Most of the guys Phoenix played on Friday weren’t players you would consider big-time scoring threats, so the Celtics defensively didn’t play with a defensive edge other than the first six minutes of the game.

In that span, Phoenix didn’t make a single shot from the field while Boston bolted out to a 16-3 lead.

From there, the Celtics didn’t play with the same sense of urgency.

Fortunately for them, they were playing a team that didn’t want to win.

That’s not going to be the case in these remaining games, a mixture of playoff-bound clubs, wannabe playoff-bound crews and a few others with rosters full of players fighting to stay in the league who will use these remaining games essentially as an audition for next season.

If Boston plays like this in any of their remaining games, they’ll most likely lose.

And that’s why Brad Stevens continues to harp on this team not being as good as their record.

Because when you’re in the same class record-wise with teams like Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and Houston, there’s a certain expectation of consistency you should play with most nights.

The Warriors and Rockets have explosive scorers; the Spurs play elite-level defense most nights and the Cavs have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Those factors form the basis of their consistency in terms of winning and overall play.

But the Celtics are very much a wild and unpredictable bunch, able to knock off Cleveland and Golden State, but get blasted by Denver and lose to Philadelphia.

If inconsistent play is a hallmark of this team, their potential for having a great season will be remembered as just that, potential.

Because games like the one they played on Friday against Phoenix on more nights than not, will result in a loss which could put the Celtics very much in the crosshairs for an early playoff exit.

Five takeaways: Booker's 70 puts focus on C's lack of D

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Five takeaways: Booker's 70 puts focus on C's lack of D

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