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

Smart: 'Can’t blame the officials for the outcome of the game'

Smart: 'Can’t blame the officials for the outcome of the game'

The fact that the James Harden of the Houston Rockets went to the free throw line 18 times which was more than the entire Celtics roster (12 free throw attempts total) certainly fired up conspiracy theorists among Celtics Nation. 
 
But what seemed to draw the most ire was what appeared to be a 3-pointer by Avery Bradley late in the fourth quarter that was initially called a long two-pointer. 
 
And after it was reviewed by the good folks in Secaucus, N.J., they allowed the ruling to stand because there wasn’t enough proof in the many replay angles for them to overturn the original call. 
 
The missed lay-ups by Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas in the closing seconds stand out, obviously. 
 
But the 3-pointer that wasn’t a 3-pointer was one of the more talked-about topics in the Celtics locker room afterwards. 
 
“From the angle we saw, it was a three,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told reporters after the game. “We definitely thought it was.”
 
Said Jae Crowder: “I thought it was a three. Nothing we can do about it now.”
 
It was that kind of game for the Celtics, one in which plays that could go either way more often than not, went against them. 
 
And while Bradley’s questionable two-pointer certainly was a factor in the game’s outcome, as was the free throw discrepancy and the late-game misses, ultimately the blame for Monday’s loss falls upon the Celtics players who were still in position to win despite all those setbacks.

They simply didn't get it done, when it mattered.
 
Smart, who had 13 points off the Celtics bench, understands that fans like to blame the officials when a game ends like Monday’s loss to Houston. 
 
“Officials, they did their job,” Smart said. “You can’t blame the officials for the outcome of the game. We made some costly plays down the stretch. Give credit to the Rockets. They made plays and executed down the stretch.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics 'still have a long ways to go'

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics 'still have a long ways to go'

Al Horford missed a game-winning shot at the buzzer. Moments earlier, Isaiah Thomas missed a lay-up that was challenging but should have been made. 
 
As much as those plays hurt Boston in its 107-106 loss at Houston, there were a series of gaffes prior to that which proved to be just as impactful on the game’s outcome. 
 
Boston led 96-88 in the fourth quarter but Houston rallied with a 14-6 spurt. 
 
When asked about what the Rockets did to get going, Celtics Jae Crowder said there was confusion among the five players on the floor. 
 
“We had confusion on a couple of play calls,” Crowder told reporters after the loss. “That’s on us. Three guys on the same page, two guys doing something differently. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing.
 
Crowder added, “all five guys on the court have to be on the same page and we weren’t. That turned into turnovers and points on the other end. That’s how they got back into it.”
 
Monday night’s loss serves as a reminder of while the Celtics are improving, there’s plenty of room to grow when it comes to late game execution. 
 
“We still have a long ways to go,” Crowder said. “We have to keep working at it. We can’t have that situation kill us at the end of the game. Missed shots, that’s OK. But miscommunication and turnovers, we can’t have.”
 
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday night’s game. 
 

STARS
 
James Harden

The “beard” once again chopped down the competition with a dominant performance. He led all scorers with 37 points to go with eight rebounds, eight rebounds and finished with a not-so-great double-double of points scored and turnovers (10).
 

STUDS
 
Al Horford

Missing the game-winning lay-up summed up the kind of night it was for Horford who still managed to finish with 21 points and a game-high nine assists with six rebounds and two blocked shots.  
 
Eric Gordon

When Harden went to the bench, Gordon did a nice job of keeping the offense flowing for the Rockets. He would finish with 19 points off the bench on 6-for-11 shooting with four 3-pointers. 
 
Isaiah Thomas

He finished with 20 points but like Horford, he too missed a lay-up in the closing seconds that could have potentially won the game for Boston.
 
Trevor Ariza

It was a quiet but effective night for Ariza who had 15 points to go with eight rebounds and two blocked shots.   
 
Celtics bench

They have been a much-maligned group for most of this season, but they kept this game from getting out of hand in the first half with strong play from Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier (seven points each), and got strong plays at both ends of the floor from Marcus Smart (13 points).
 

DUDS
 
Amir Johnson

He was replaced in the starting lineup by Jonas Jerebko, and was just as ineffective coming off the bench. He was scoreless in less than five minutes of playing time, committing as many fouls (2) as grabbed rebounds (2). It remains to be seen whether he will be in the starting lineup when the Celtics play at Orlando on Wednesday.