SALT LAKE CITY -- The Celtics return home Tuesday morning having salvaged their five-game road trip with a 110-107 win over the Utah Jazz, beating one of the better home teams in the NBA with a stirring second-half and overtime performance by Paul Pierce, who scored 7 points in overtime.
Boston (30-27) trailed 60-53 with 9:25 left before going on a 17-2 run to take a 70-62 lead. They held that same 8-point lead going into the fourth quarter before the Jazz came back with a 13-2 run to begin the fourth quarter. The Celtics had major issues with swingman Gordon Hayward, who finished with 26 points.
The pivotal point of the game occurred with 8:41 left after Hayward completed Utah's run with a one-handed jam for an 85-82 lead. Celtics coach Doc Rivers tore into his team, accosting his players before they even walked to the bench after the timeout. Afterwards, the Celtics followed with stifling defense on Hayward and that streaking dunk would be his last field goal.
Hayward was 3-for-9 shooting in the second half as Rivers mixed up defenses, trapping the ball and challenging entry passes because of their size disadvantage.
"I thought we junked the game up; I'm a fan of that but we did it, we went zone, started trapping all around the floor and I just thought our trap was so bad, it was good," Rivers said. "We didn't know what we were doing and they didn't know what we were doing and it created confusion and it worked."
For the final 6:01, the two teams traded scores. Pierce drained a fadeaway 18-footer with 36.6 left in regulation for the lead. Alec Burks tied the game with a running layup off a broken plan with 19.9 left. Rivers drew up a new play that was supposed to involve Jason Terry, but he moved to the wrong spot on the floor, forcing Pierce to fire on one those unsuccessful fadeaways at the buzzer.
He made up for his miss in overtime with a 3-pointer to put the Celtics ahead for good, and then two more midrange jumpers, the final one with his shorts hanging below his knees because Demarre Carroll grabbed them in vain trying to stop Pierce.
“This was one of them desperation type games that we needed,” he said. “We felt like we let one go away in Portland. This was sort of like a must-win for us. We wanted to win in regulation. It would have felt better just to get a stop when we needed it. That’s what we have to get better at it. When we get the lead, when we need crucial stops, we have to figure out how to get them.”
The Celtics are now 6-4 in overtime games and are 2 1/2 games behind the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference. The repercussions of a 1-4 road trip would have been damaging for a team desperately looking for momentum on the road.
"Whatever that is, it was the best win for me of the year," Rivers said. "Five games, seven nights, five different cities, three time zones. To gut it out, go in overtime and still have enough to win. Paul down the stretch, just carried us. We found something we liked in the pick-and-roll and went with it."
Said center Kevin Garnett, who told Rivers to keep him in the game to begin overtime: "We needed this though. This is probably one of the hardest places to play, as far as on the road, always have been, probably always will be."