Tuesday afternoon, as his team stared down the barrel of that evening’s matchup with the Utah Jazz—owners of the best record in basketball—Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens sang the Jazz’s praises as an efficient, selfless unit and he highlighted the outsized impact their center Rudy Gobert often has on on both ends of the floor.
As for his team? Well, Stevens was not so glowing.
On Tuesday, speaking on the “Zolak & Bertrand” radio show in Boston, Stevens mentioned Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Suns on their Western Conference swing.
“There were a lot of things we did that if the balls go in two or three more times it’s a totally different game,” Stevens said. “I don’t think we are a great team by any means, I think we have a lot of work to do. But I do think we showed that we could have resolve on a day that the ball just wasn’t going in.”
Stevens was referring to the fact that despite Boston’s atrocious shooting (16-for-49, or 32.6%, from inside the arc) they were still down only three points to Phoenix with 1:04 left in the fourth quarter. Though they never closed the gap, the competitiveness of the game alone constituted progress to Stevens, especially when compared to another particularly bad shooting night.
“You could rewind that a few weeks ago, we played the Knicks at home and the ball wasn’t going in,” said Stevens. “It was a 30% shooting game, just one of those days, and we got beat by 30. So to me there’s a little bit of growth there in [the Suns] game where it’s not going your way and you’re playing a real good team. And you still have a chance—not as good a chance as we would’ve liked, but a chance.”
Stevens: High Praise for Jazz
At times, Stevens’ praise for the Jazz sounded like a not-so-subtle message to his own team, as he spoke glowingly about Utah’s overall decision-making and efficiency.
“The thing about this team that they do better than anyone else in this league, in my opinion, is that when it’s time to make the pass they make the pass,” said Stevens. “There’s no extra dribbling, there’s no extra holding, there’s no extra, you know, looking to get an angle for a shot. It’s, get it out of my hands and get it to the next guy, and then the next guy either drives it, shoots it or moves it.”
Stevens also talked about Gobert’s value to Utah’s offense, even though, as a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, his defense is what usually gets the most ink.
“Gobert probably impacts your defensive game plan as a team more than any other player that averages 13 points a game,” said Stevens, referring to Utah’s success with the pick and roll. “Because when he rolls to the rim, he is enormous, so if you are late to a rotation, he’s gonna dunk it and that’s an easy two and usually a foul…but then you’re so consumed with that because it’s such a threat that you pull in just for a step and that’s when [Utah] starts spraying that ball around.”
Jazz Prove Celtics’ Stevens Correct
When Boston took the floor against Utah for the finale of the trip, Stevens’ assessment of the Jazz was proven undeniably correct. The Jazz, despite missing starting point guard Mike Conley, used dominant performances by Gobert (18 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks) and guard Donovan Mitchell (34 points, nine assists) to dismantle the Celtics 122-108 and claim their 16th win in 17 games. Forward Joe Ingles also contributed 24 points and sank a huge 3-pointer late in the fourth to help stave off a run.
Boston, on the other hand, ends their West Coast road trip 2-3 and returns home with more questions than answers, particularly around guard Kemba Walker, who had another horrendous shooting night (2-for-12), as well as recurring lapses in defense that continue to undermine their chances for winning close games. Questions also swirl around what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will do before the trade deadline.
One thing, though, that is not in doubt: Utah is far and away the better team right now.
“You could see the difference between Utah and us tonight,” said forward Jaylen Brown, who led Boston with 33 points after missing the last two games with knee soreness. “The flow they have to their team is really good right now. We gotta find a better flow for ourselves because we have some disconnectedness at times and the game almost seems like it’s a little bit harder than it should be.”
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