With the way this season has been going, of course the Celtics’ best game yet came in a loss to the Utah Jazz.
But there was a lot for Boston to feel good about in a 137-130 loss to one of the best overall teams in the NBA right now. For the first time all season, the offense really clicked and matched the effort on the other end, if not exceeded it.
Not without adjustments, though. From the jump it was looking like the Jazz would pound on the Celtics, with the home team getting out to a 14-2 start. Despite the growth he’s shown all year, Robert Williams was mismatched against a long 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert. All the while, Al Horford was going off.
In an early tweak, Udoka opted to give Grant Williams more of a run, with Horford primarily on Gobert.
“To force their hand a little bit and with how they were guarding, Gobert was really controlling in the paint there, we wanted to put him against some guys that could space the floor a little bit better,” Udoka said via Zoom of the decision. “Obviously, Al and Grant. So taking him away from the rim some and match Al’s minutes with him.”
Horford managed to pull Gobert out of the lane, opening it up for teammates like Jayson Tatum, Dennis Schröder, Marcus Snart and Josh Richardson — all of whom reached double-digit scoring. Grant Williams hit two 3-pointers with three assists to spread the floor.
Horford finished with 21 points, six rebounds, nine assists, a steal and a block against the Jazz. In support, the defense switched well trying to contain a team whose offense comes from around the perimeter or at the basket.
And when Gobert was resting, Udoka adjusted again.
At one point in the fourth, he deployed a lineup with Tatum, Rob Williams, Smart, Schröder and Richardson, and it went in for a small run to start the fourth down the stretch, making sure it came down to the final one or two possessions.
It showed Boston the potential of its versatility.
“I think this game kind of showed us that, you know, the potential — some of the things that we can do,” Horford said via Zoom after the game. “There’s times that we were switching 1 through 5 in the fourth. Other times we started playing back a little bit. That hurt us. That’s when we started giving up some laps to Gobert. In general, yeah, I think that with all the different lineups it shows how versatile we can be with this group that we have and be effective.”
Of course, Boston was without Jaylen Brown, the All-Star wing who is one of their best defenders.
Now they’ll look to integrate him back into this rhythm the Celtics are finding as he continues to manage his hamstring injury on this West Coast trip.