Celtics

The Celtics have a very real shot at the No. 1 seed: 5 takeaways vs. Jazz

"I knew the energy was about to shift, so I’m happy that we’re here now."

Celtics Jazz
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum makes a three point basket over Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale. Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

In a season full of “if I told you …” moments, the Celtics produced one of their better ones with a blowout win over the Jazz on Wednesday.

The blowout itself was a solid “if I told you” — the Celtics returned from a 4-0 road trip out west and decimated the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. The Jazz, who have the league’s best offense and second-best point differential, never had a chance after the Celtics made their first 10 shots of the game (which strains credulity itself).

But the bigger “If I told you” was aided by the Heat, who melted down against the Warriors and lost. The Celtics’ win inched them closer to the No. 1 seed in the conference — they now trail the Heat by just 1.5 games, with a head-to-head remaining. With another head-to-head againts the Bucks remaining as well, the Celtics very nearly control their own destiny.

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“That’s crazy, right?” Jaylen Brown said, smiling after the game. “Not really. I feel like all of this was prime, very, very prime for us. We just had to put full stretches together and stuff like that.

“I knew the energy was about to shift, so I’m happy that we’re here now. It’s crazy to know we’re a game and a half — as many games as we blew in the first half of the season, it would’ve been nice to have won some of those games because maybe we would be in first right now. But everything happens for a reason, so we take it one game at a time. We see where we’re at come playoff time.”

After Marcus Smart returned from an absence in January that was part injury, part COVID, the Celtics won a game and Brown famously tweeted that the energy was about to shift.

That tweet — which Brown once insisted had nothing to do with basketball — has become a pivot point of sorts for the Celtics. On Wednesday, Brown reiterated that the tweet was about mercury being in retrograde. For those who don’t know (like this writer until two minutes ago), mercury in retrograde refers to the three times per year Mercury appears to travel backward across the sky. Per a cursory Google search, Mercury Retrograde causes confusion and frustration — two apt descriptors of the Celtics before the calendar flipped.

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“The retrograde was coming to an end, so that’s why I tweeted the energy was about to shift,” Brown said. “So it happens that when retrograde ended that’s when we started going on this crazy win streak. But it’s all connected.”

If Brown is right, the Celtics might be in trouble: The next Mercury Retrograde is May 10 through June 2 — prime playoff time.

Anyway, back to basketball.

More takeaways

2. Marcus Smart dished out 13 assists — his season-high. In recent weeks, his ability to manipulate the defense has been on display. Here’s a perfect example (and one of Smart’s better passes this year) from Wednesday’s game.

A lot happens here, so let’s break it down briefly.

  • As Smart drove to the hoop, Rudy Gobert shaded toward him. Gobert is one of the only players in the NBA who could reasonably contest and prevent a lob to Robert Williams from Smart in that scenario.
  • Still, Royce O’Neal took a step toward Williams away from Brown in the corner.
  • Smart appeared to be passing to Brown, and Eric Paschall broke away from Tatum at the last possible second to go contest Brown.
  • Smart appeared to catch Paschall breaking for Tatum out of the corner of his eye and whipped an excellent pass across his body directly to Tatum. Paschall stumbled back to recover and overshot Tatum, who buried the 3-pointer.

“I know, knew, known what I can do and who I am as a point guard, as a player,” Smart said after the game. “My whole career, I’ve been a point guard. Went to college as a point guard, got drafted as a point guard, and to be actually used as a point guard, I can say that’s just where it’s at. I’m finally in the right position and it fits me and it also helps this team.”

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3. The Celtics have one of the best shot-blocking guards in the league (Derrick White) and one of the best shot blockers period (Robert Williams), but at the end of the season, the year’s best block might be Daniel Theis against Jordan Clarkson in the first half.

Replays showed an utterly clean rejection. Even Theis appeared to need a minute to gather himself.

4. The Celtics buried the Jazz with a 3-point barrage early, and their numbers stayed up throughout the game. Tatum — whose 3-point numbers continue to creep up after a slow start — finished 5-for-8. Payton Pritchard — who is shooting 63.3 percent from 3-point range in his last five games — was 3-for-4. Brown was a comparatively cold 3-for-6. Even Derrick White, whose struggles from 3 since joining the Celtics have far surpassed any reasonable statistical projection, was 2-for-3.

The Celtics are creating great looks with ball movement and are cashing them in.

“How does it look?” Brown asked reporters.

Even objective reporters have to admit that it looks pretty good right now.

“We feel great, man,” Brown said. “We feel great. I keep saying, we just taking it one day at a time. It’s about us. So we just got to keep doing what we do well and keeping that chip on our shoulder, and I think we’ll be fine.”

5. How does Brown feel about Tatum’s blow-a-kiss celebration?

“Well Jayson stole the kiss from me,” Brown said. “He watching me work out and stuff like that, and then pregame, when I’m getting ready for the game, he watches my workout and he kind of sees what I’ve got going on and he’s like, ‘Okay, I’m going to come out and see if I can get away with something.’

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“He definitely got the kiss from me. Let’s roll the tape back. Now I’ve got to mix it up. I don’t know what to do. JT lifts a lot. He’s light-skinned so it looks better when he do it. So I got to switch it up.”

We aren’t sure whether Brown can prove he blew a kiss first, but due to a quirk in the schedule, the Celtics have the next three days off. So rest assured, we are on the case.

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