A POSTSEASON FEEL
The Jazz have a notoriously hostile home crowd, and as Utah surged in the second half last night, that crowd grew more and more rabid.
Dealing with the environment was one thing, but then the execution, the big shot and to a certain degree the stakes, with both teams fight for position in the standings.
The Celtics had a difficult stretch winning in Houston and Dallas, but last night’s 110-97 in Utah had a post-season atmosphere, which Paul Pierce readily acknowledged.
“You knew that before the game started,” Pierce said. “Twelve games to go. Both teams jockeying for position, trying to gather some momentum for the playoffs. You have to expect that.”
The Celtics sabotaged themselves, turning the ball over and going without a basket the final two minutes of the first half, then the Jazz executed, and made big shots in the third quarter to bury them.
As far as seeding implications, the Celtics stay knotted with the Hawks, who were dropped by the Bucks last night 98-96. They’re both 4.5 games behind the Magic, who beat the Sixers.
Meanwhile, Utah’s only 1.5 games out of second place in the West.
“The West, obvously the Lakers are the favorite, but it’s going to be a challenge,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. I think Utah’s going to be right there, and I think everybody conveniently forgets Denver and San Antonio. There’s no easy games in the playoffs.”
The Celtics are essentially hosting an open house for potential playoff teams the next two weeks with Denver, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland all due at the Garden. They faired well on the road, but Pierce would have preferred taking all three games on the trip.
“We’re trying to be greedy, especially at this point in the season,” Pierce said. “We need every win we can get, especially with the seeding being so important. By no means are we satisfied with losing today. We don’t come on a trip saying we win two lose one. Our goal is to win every game. So we’re disappointed for losing this game.
“We’ve got to get back to the drawing board, and look at the last couple games that we played well, and continue to build. We can’t get discouraged from one loss to a Utah team – who is tough and at home – we’ve got to keep building for the rest of the season.”
RIVERS EXPLAINS LAST MINUTE EJECTION
You want to say it was an accumulation of things — for instance the 17 free throws Utah shot in the second half or the forearm that Glen Davis took that bloodied his nose — because otherwise, Doc Rivers was ejected with 1:11 left for arguing a travel in an NBA game, which would be like getting worked up because it rained in Seattle.
It happened right in front of him, Rivers said, and referee Ed Malloy missed it. Doc, who has a solid grasp on sarcasm, said he told Malloy, “Please keep officiating the game.”
Malloy hit him with a tech. Rivers, showing Malloy up, began clapping from the Celtics bench. “I said, ‘That’s the best call you’ve made all night.'”
He got another tech, taking his second ejection of the season. To be honest, he knew the game was decided.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” Rivers said, “Let me be clear, the refs didn’t lose the game for us. I thought the Jazz just did more things in the second half. I thought they played terrific.”
The Celtics have maintained that they’re not looking at the numbers — seedings, win streaks, etc. — and that the goals are to remain healthy and get the team playing its best basketball going into the playoffs, particularly the starting lineup.
That said, Paul Pierce strung together scoring nights of 29, 26 and 29 points. Kevin Garnett coming around offensively (13.2 points per game in March) and is active on defense (five steals in Dallas) and on the glass (7.2 rebounds in March). Ray Allen maintaining his post-trade deadline form (46.4 percent 3-point percentage in March). And Rajon Rondo can control games as a scorer or distributor.
“I know that sounds corny, and half the people don’t believe it, but that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to get back to where we were at before all the injuries happened and we lost our rhythm. And we’re on our way to getting back there. That’s all we want to do.”
With eight of their last 12 games at the Garden, getting extended time at home, something they’ve gone without for most of the season, should help, even though at 21-12 on the parquet, they have work to do at home as well.
“We’re coming down to the downslide of the schedule,” Garnett said. “We’ve got games at home so we should be good. I think this was pretty much our big road trip, now we’ve got two more back to backs, so we can get better, get healthy, get some rest it’ll be good for us.”