The Boston Celtics continue to roll.
Boston defeated the Utah Jazz 114-103 in Wednesday's showdown between playoff contenders at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Jayson Tatum led a balanced effort with all five starters in double figures, helping the Celtics improve to 41-17 overall with their fourth win in the last five games.
As for the Jazz, they are trending in the wrong direction and have lost four games in a row following the most recent defeat.
Notable Player Stats
- BOS F Jayson Tatum: 33 points and 11 rebounds on 13-of-20 shooting
- BOS G Jaylen Brown: 20 points and six rebounds
- BOS G Marcus Smart: 17 points, nine assists, three steals and three rebounds
- UTA G Donovan Mitchell: 37 points, five assists and five rebounds
- UTA G Mike Conley: 15 points, four rebounds and three assists
Jayson Tatum Continues Ascent to Elite Status
Kemba Walker hasn't suited up for the Celtics since Feb. 13 because of a knee injury.
That leaves Boston without its primary ball-handler and a facilitator who can take over games as a scorer. That, in turn, puts additional pressure on other playmakers such as Jaylen Brown, who has scored 20 or more points in four straight games without Walker, and Gordon Hayward, who was booed loudly every time he touched the ball by the same Jazz fans who used to cheer for him.
Still, there is no doubt who the go-to option is at this point.
Tatum scored 28, 41 and 36 points in the previous three games without Walker and was brilliant yet again during the win over Utah.
He seemingly couldn't miss in the first half on his way to 25 points, including a driving layup over Rudy Gobert to give the Celtics the lead going into intermission. He hit from the outside and didn't hesitate to attack off the bounce when defenders collapsed on him.
Tatum's blistering start led to more doubles and traps from the Jazz in the second half, which opened looks for the rest of the team. Brown took over with 10 points in less than three minutes during a head-turning stretch in the third quarter, and Marcus Smart made three straight triples as the Celtics built a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
While Tatum did most of his scoring in the first half, it was the offensive explosion in the early going that opened the door for the rest of the team in a balanced effort.
Don't be surprised if the offense runs through Tatum even when Walker returns as he continues to position himself among the league's best.
Defense Continues to Falter for Jazz
The Jazz needed a spark following three straight losses, and there was speculation Royce O'Neale would start instead of Mike Conley, who has played below his typical level during his first season in Utah.
Head coach Quin Snyder changed course and instead put O'Neale in for Joe Ingles, pointing out the need for defensive improvements after his team allowed 131 points to the Phoenix Suns last time out.
"The overriding thought on our team right now is we've got to get back to defending," Snyder said of the change, per Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune. "That's been our focus in practice. My decision to put Royce in the lineup is grounded in that, although he can't do that on his own."
Concerns on that end of the ball have dominated the narrative for a team that is an ugly 25th in defensive rating this month, per NBA.com, but offense was the initial issue Wednesday when the Jazz managed just 15 points in the entire first quarter.
Donovan Mitchell took matters into his own hands and kept the Jazz within striking distance with 20 points in the second quarter, but even the All-Star guard's impressive performance couldn't make up for his team's defensive struggles.
Boston shifted into takeover mode with 61 points in the second half, shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three-point range with just eight turnovers.
If the Jazz don't make defensive strides soon, they will be in trouble in the daunting Western Conference.
Both teams are at home for their next games. The Jazz host the Washington Wizards on Friday, while the Celtics host the Houston Rockets on Saturday.