The Utah Jazz came out of halftime like a midsummer California forest fire: Flaming hot and viciously destructive.
Before you could say Mehmet Okur, a five-point halftime lead for the Boston Celtics had turned into a 10-point deficit, and a very winnable game was suddenly headed to the ‘L’ column. The final score would be even worse, 110-97.
Just before halftime, the Celtics had seemed headed for their fifth straight impressive win. A Ray Allen three-bomb put the Celtics up 12, and they were threatening to break the game wide open. Just when it seemed they might put the Jazz away for good, the Celtics took their foot off the gas and allowed the Jazz right back into the game. The 12-point lead disintegrated to five by the intermission, and the table was set for Utah’s second-half onslaught.
For the Celtics, it was a disappointing loss, but far from the end of the world. A 3-0 road trip would have been delicious, but 2-1 is nothing to be ashamed of. Beating the Jazz in Utah is exceedingly tough, but beating them in Utah when Okur plays like Reggie Miller, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dennis Rodman all rolled into one is next to impossible. Ohkur was everywhere, blocking shots, snatching rebounds, and draining three-pointers from all angles.
The Celtics looked like a team ready to fly home and embark on a six-game homestand, while the Jazz looked like a team thirstily trying to defend its homecourt. In the end, that was the difference. It wasn’t that Utah was a better team, or that they have more talent, but simply that they wanted it more. It was that simple. Had Boston kept the turnovers to a minimum in a sloppy first half, Utah might have faced an insurmountable halftime deficit. But they didn’t, and they didn’t.
I’ve spent half a season urging Boston to find the heart to exert effort throughout every play of each game, but tonight was the most excusable loss Boston has had in awhile. I don’t want to let them off the hook after another second-half meltdown, but this one was understandable. On the last leg of a road trip, playing a very good Utah team in a hostile environment, with a six-game road trip waiting on the horizon, it all added up to a second half devoid of any energy. I don’t condone it, but I can see why it happened.
If the Celtics don’t bring their hardhats and lunchpails on Wednesday, though, there’s something wrong. Playing a Nuggets team that all but bent the Celtics over and spanked them last time the two teams met, the Celtics should be out for blood. It should help that it’s in the Garden, but playing at home hasn’t always been a good sign this season.
After seeing the Jazz play the Celtics like a fiddle in the final 24 minutes of tonight’s game, spectators might think this was another night the Celtics got overrun by a better opponent. I wouldn’t read too much into the loss, though. It was one game, and one game only. Really, it was one half and one half only. The Celtics live to play another day.
The next time the Celtics take the court, they should thank their lucky stars they don’t have to play Mehmet Miller Olajuwon Rodman Okur. He’s a killer.
- Doc Rivers was tossed out of the game with a minute or so left after receiving his second technical foul, and mockingly applauded the referee after his dismissal.
- Ray Allen led the Celtics with 15 points. Paul Pierce, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, scored only 11 on 3-13 shooting.