A closer look at Grant Williams’s final play, plus 6 takeaways from Celtics vs. Jazz

"I’ve got to get a shot up at least."

Celtics Jazz
Jazz center Walker Kessler defends against Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The Celtics fell apart in the final minutes against the Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back, dropping a 118-117 loss.

Here are the takeaways.

1. Shortly after he was blocked at the rim on the final possession of the game, Grant Williams offered a lengthy and insightful explanation into why he caught the inbound pass from Malcolm Brogdon and went directly to the hoop against Jazz big man Walker Kessler.

Kessler, an otherworldly rim protector who dominated the paint against the Celtics all night, was parked underneath the basket when Williams received the pass from Brogdon. The play — which started as a familiar set with Tatum set up behind half-court — appeared to be a decoy, set up for Williams to catch the inbounds pass with space to operate.

But the Jazz defense caught the Celtics by surprise — Kessler started the possession on Williams, and when the Celtics forward ran toward the free throw line, Lauri Markkanen picked him up while Kessler stayed under the basket.


In this case, Tatum appeared to be a decoy, which meant Williams had to make a read when the ball was inbounded to him.

To his right, Sam Hauser was in the corner but when Williams started to drive, Markkanen faded over to shrink the passing angle.

On Williams’s left, Jaylen Brown appeared to slip on a wet spot and briefly touched the ground to regain his balance, but the clock was ticking.

Brogdon remained out of bounds. Tatum remained in the backcourt. The Celtics had no more timeouts.

So Williams only had a few options. He tried one. Clearly, it didn’t work.

“It was like, ‘I’ve got to get a shot up at least,’” Williams said. “So I tried to make contact with Walker and shot fake and try to get the ball up at least on the glass so we could get an offensive rebound and tip. He made a good play and got the ball and blocked it, and after that, no time left.”

Williams started to say there was “no avenue in that scenario,” but after a brief pause, he corrected himself.

“Or I could have shot a floater,” he said. “Probably the better shot. Or even just try to get that ball to Sam, but [Markannen] did a good job of bluffing and getting back out, forcing me into Walker. So. Yeah.”


In other words, Williams offered a relatively fair critique of his own performance on that play. Did he make the right play? Probably not. But it’s not like the options available to him were particularly good. Nothing went right on the final set.

2. Much will be made of the Celtics losing a 19-point lead, but that was pretty standard — a big first-half lead by a team on the second night of a back-to-back was quickly whittled down, and the game became competitive. Absolutely no first-half lead in the NBA should be considered safe by now. Points pile up too quickly.

The final two minutes were really where the game was lost. With 1:43 left and the Celtics up four, Jaylen Brown committed a bad foul on Kessler as he drove to the basket, and the officials upgraded it to a flagrant one. Kessler didn’t do any damage from the free-throw line, but the Jazz cut the lead to one with a 3-pointer by Ochai Agbaji. Without the flagrant, the Jazz would have had a 54-percent free-throw shooter headed to the line. Instead, they got an enormous offensive boost.

On the other end, Williams made a great play — driving a hard closeout to find Jaylen Brown in the opposite corner for a 3-pointer in front of Utah’s bench.


Once again, the Celtics held a four-point lead, but they wouldn’t score again. After Markannen buried a 3-pointer, Tatum went iso on a play where he probably should have found Malcolm Brogdon.

On the next possession, the Celtics tried to go 2-for-1 with 35 seconds remaining, but the play took a little too long to develop and didn’t generate a good shot — Tatum took a tough off-the-dribble 3-pointer that only left a small difference between the game and shot clock. On pull-up jumpers this season, Tatum is shooting just 30.1 percent.

That set up Williams’s final miss. Again, Williams might not have made the right play, but a great number of other things went wrong beforehand.

3. A final note on Williams — he played a great game until the final five seconds, shooting 7-for-12 from 3-point range en route to 23 points. Even if you assign him blame for Saturday’s loss, his performance was encouraging for a Celtics team that really needs him to be operational when the postseason rolls around.

4. Derrick White — who is the team’s plus/minus leader — spent the entire fourth quarter on the bench. Williams was hot from behind the arc, but one can’t but wonder whether White’s decision-making might have made a difference in the final minute (or just at all in the last 12 minutes).

5. Once again, the Celtics struggled on the “margins,” as Joe Mazzulla likes to put it. On Saturday, the biggest flaw was the offensive rebounding — the Jazz out-rebounded the Celtics 17-5 on the offensive glass (one day after the Celtics grabbed 18 to the Blazers’ eight). That resulted in a 20-8 advantage in second-chance points.


On that note, Al Horford was ruled out before the game. After Friday’s win over the Blazers, Horford said he planned to be available against the Jazz, but the Celtics opted to continue sitting him on the second night of back-to-backs.

Luke Kornet played well in Horford’s absence (eight points, 4-for-5 shooting, seven rebounds in 25 minutes, 9-for-13 with 19 points in his last two games). Still, Robert Williams’ return — which could be as soon as Tuesday against the Kings, per Mazzulla — will be a big boost.

6. The loss dropped the Celtics to third in the Eastern Conference standings, one behind the 76ers who have won eight games in a row.

They close their road trip against the Kings at 10 p.m. EST on Tuesday.


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