The Utah Jazz had been in disarray, losing their Hall of Fame coach, their All-Star point guard, and six of their past seven games. They had just lost a game to the Pistons, 120-116, which means that — yes — the Jazz actually allowed 120 points to the Pistons, a lowly team playing without half its best players. The Jazz, I’m telling you, had sucked lately. So, obviously, they and Celtics played one of the most fun contests you’ll see this season.
Al Jefferson dominated the paint, and Derrick Favors showed why every team willing to trade a superstar was linked to Favors. Devin Harris flashed Derrick Rose-ian speed, and reminded fans why he was an All-Star only two seasons ago. It was strange looking to Utah’s sideline and seeing somebody who wasn’t Jerry Sloan, but Tyrone Corbin’s team played hard. They played with a purpose, and the home crowd roared in support.
But the Jazz could not defeat the Boston Celtics, not even with so much effort, not even on a night when Utah controlled the three-second key. The Celtics made all the necessary plays in the fourth quarter to hold Utah at bay. Ray Allen drained a number of jumpers deserving of the Sam Cassell dance (expected), and Rajon Rondo — God bless his normally-broken jump shot — drained a free throw-line jumper to seal the deal (not expected). Paul Pierce scored 21 points on ten shots, including a clutch three-pointer of his own, and Kevin Garnett double-doubled for the fifth straight game (yeah, that’s impressive). Avery Bradley took six shots in six minutes, even making two of them, and Rajon Rondo was fantastically aggressive (despite passing up a couple open layups in favor of passing the ball).
The two newest Celtics also played, and the result was an admittedly mixed bag. Nenad Krstic began the game like a Serbian version of Wilt Chamberlain, and I’m clearly using quite a bit of hyperbole. But Krstic looked, at the very least, like a huge step up offensively from Kendrick Perkins. He sprinted the floor, showed his nice outside shooting form, caught an alley-oop from Rajon Rondo, poured in 10 first-quarter points, and never once brought the ball to his ankles after catching a pass in the paint (sorry, Perk). But, alas, there are downfalls to Nenad Krstic. Such as this: Al Jefferson scored 28 points and added 19 rebounds, while Paul Millsap scored 17 points of his own. Boston’s interior defense certainly did not invoke thoughts of Bill Russell.
But Jeff Green did, if only for one flying block in transition. Barring that one highlight block, Green’s game was up and down. He hit a tough shot from the wing and finished a nice putback layup, but also missed an outside jumper so badly I feared for the backboard’s life. Still, Green again showed the versatility that should make him quite valuable off Boston’s bench, even if his offensive game continues to be less efficient than I would like.
I’m not sure whether Doc Rivers considers Green an exciting new toy or whether he simply wants to figure out how to maximize Green’s talents, but Doc has put Green into some truly funky lineups. Tonight’s funkiest one featured Green — who primarily played power forward in Oklahoma City and might naturally be a small forward — at shooting guard. The lineup consisted of Rondo-Green-Pierce-Davis-Krstic, or, in other words, a lineup I definitely never thought I’d see playing for the Boston Celtics. The lineup did not play long, but Doc Rivers can tinker with Green to mix and match some intriguing (and strange) lineups.
Other things happened, of course. And I’ll discuss more tomorrow. But tonight, just thank the basketball gods for such an entertaining game, and for allowing Ray Allen to age so gracefully. And for the opportunity to watch Al Jefferson’s post game at its finest, because Jefferson’s post game looks a lot like art and sounds a lot like Mozart.