BOSTON — Tyler Zeller hit the game-winning layup as time expired, enabling the Celtics to escape with a 85-84 win against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. Isaiah Thomas scored 19 of his game-high 21 points in the second half of the win, but it was Zeller who ended up helping the Celtics avoid a late-game collapse.
Boston led for the first 23:58 of the second half, and held a sizable eight-point edge with 2:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Jazz refused to go down quietly however, as they responded with a 11-2 run over the next two minutes to take a 84-83 lead with 1.2 seconds remaining. Former Butler star Gordon Hayward hit a go-ahead jumper over Zeller from the right wing to cap the Jazz comeback.
The clutch shot was not the end of the night’s theatrics. Following a pair of Celtics timeouts, Marcus Smart delivered a pinpoint pass to Zeller under the basket, over the outstretched arms of Jazz big man Rudy Gobert. Zeller pump-faked a pair of defenders and managed to sneak in the layup off the glass just before time expired.
Brad Stevens broke down the decision to look for Zeller in the post on the game’s final play, following the win.
“They switched the play before when Marcus (Smart) couldn’t get it inbounded with (Gordon) Hayward and (Derrick) Favors,” Stevens explained. “So we wanted to try to get that switch again, so we just ran a little action to get that switch again and then (Rudy) Gobert was on the ball so he wasn’t at the rim. So we were hoping to slip and catch it a little bit cleaner and lay it in, but, you know, that was the goal – and it ended up being okay.”
Everyone in the Celtics locker room was quick to credit Stevens for the savvy decision.
“Coach Stevens drew up a great play,” Smart said. “The first play was supposed to go to Jae Crowder. Utah played it very well [before we called timeout]. [After the timeout] he came back with the counterattack. It was tough, they put a tall defender on the ball and I had to pass fake the ball to get him leaning one way. Tyler did a great job shoving his man off and just put it at the back of the backboard.”
Zeller finished with eight points and 11 rebounds in his 29 minutes of action and was elated to hit the second buzzer-beater of the season for the Celtics.
“This is definitely my first one in the NBA,” Zeller said of his game-winner. “I just wanted to make sure it was good. That’s really all I wanted to know. It was a great thing and Marcus put it right on the money, made my job easier. It’s a great feeling, especially at the other end. Gordon [Hayward] had made the shot on me so being able to come back and make the game-winner is an unbelievable feeling. This was kind of a must-win for us so being able to get this win was big.”
The Celtics snapped a two-game losing streak with the victory.