Celtics vs. Jazz NBA Odds & Picks: Ride Utah’s Strong Defense at Home
Omar Rawlings/Getty Images. Pictured: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz.
Celtics vs. Jazz Odds
|Moneyline||+180 / -225|
|Time||10 p.m. ET|
Coming into the season, the Boston Celtics would have been a popular candidate to make the Conference Finals, while the Utah Jazz were seen as more of a first-round playoff team. The way things have gone so far this season, it’s starting to look like the roles have reversed.
The Celtics are grinding through games. It feels like Boston hasn’t been healthy all season, and it’s a testament to how well Brad Stevens has coached this season that the Celtics still sit fourth in the East standings.
The Jazz are not grinding, unless you mean grinding opponents to a pulp. The Jazz have won 15 of their last 16 games, with 13 of those wins coming by double digits. They have the best record in the NBA (19-5) and would be on a 65-win pace for a normal season.
So with the Celtics still banged up and the Jazz blistering hot, is there any reason to expect anything different in this one?
What do we make of the Celtics? That question probably has a different answer depending on if you’re talking more about the present or the future.
The future Celtics are in good shape. They will be in the playoffs, and though the Celtics probably won’t have a top East seed, they’ll be competitive again, just like they have several summers running.
While the Celtics haven’t felt whole this season, it speaks volumes that they still rank 10th in Net Rating and SRS and are floating around the edge of the top 10 in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. If they can hit those marks with their starting lineup in flux most nights, the C’s should still be a real threat when they get everyone back for a playoff push.
For now, though, Marcus Smart is out with a calf injury and Jaylen Brown is still day-to-day with a knee injury. He’s missed the past two games after an All-NBA type start, so be sure to check the Action Labs injury report to see if he’ll be playing in this one. Only Daniel Theis has played every Boston game so far this season, and unless Brown is back for this game, a team without much depth will yet again be missing two of its top five rotation guys.
Boston isn’t getting particularly efficient looks on offense. The Celtics rank in the bottom 10 in both 3-point and free throw attempts, and their shooting hasn’t been great. On defense, they’re limiting 3-point attempts but finally allowing opponents to hit a few of them.
Two things the Celtics have done especially well amidst the rest of the mediocrity: dominate the offensive glass and force a lot of turnovers. The Jazz can be a bit turnover prone at times, so that’s one area the Celtics could cause some problems — though Smart is a big miss to that end.
Celtics games are almost always close and competitive, and that means Boston could be in this and have a shot. Incredibly, 11 of Boston’s 22 games this season have come down to a five-point margin or less. The Celtics have only lost by double digits three times all season, so Utah will be hard-pressed to add another big win to its ledger.
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Everything just looks so easy for Utah right now. The Jazz have a sparkling +8.4 Net Rating and rank in the top four in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. The offense has been great all season, and now the defense has been even better of late.
Utah leads the league in Defensive Effective Field Goal Percentage at 49.8%. The Jazz obliterate most opponents on the glass, don’t foul much, and force the opposing team to take difficult shots, with Rudy Gobert leading the charge from the middle and Royce O’Neale an underrated great perimeter defender.
Unlike Boston, the Jazz don’t force turnovers at all, by design. They know their defense is so good that they don’t have to. They’ll just force you into one low-percentage shot, clean up the rebound, and beat you on the other end.
That other end has seen flame-throwing threes all season long. The Jazz lead the league in 3-pointers made per game and rank second in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 40.3%.
Jordan Clarkson is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate with 17.5 PPG off the bench and sparkling shooting numbers, hitting 38.7% of his treys — and he’s the worst shooting Utah regular by a decent margin. Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Royce O’Neale are all over 40%, and Gobert and Derrick Favors don’t shoot. The rest of the team can’t miss.
For years, the Celtics have had some sort of weird voodoo magic ability to keep opponents near the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage year after year, even though that stat is basically random for everyone else, but this year that hasn’t been the case. If Utah’s shooters get hot, when the defense is already this suffocating, the Jazz can look unbeatable.
They basically have been, with only one loss over the last month.
As much as I respect Boston’s ability to grind and keep things close, I’m not sure they can hang here if Brown doesn’t suit up. The Celtics just don’t have a ton of offensive options. Tatum can only do so much, and Kemba hasn’t been great this season as he works back into shape in his return from injury.
Utah has held its opponent to 105 or fewer points in 11 of the last 15 Jazz games (73%). They’ve held the opponent to 95 or below in six of those games (40%). That’s not many points allowed, especially for a team averaging 114.2 PPG themselves. These are also two of the slower teams in the league, and Utah is an elite rebounding team, which takes away Boston’s most efficient method of scoring, off the offensive glass.
Boston’s only real advantage in this game is forcing turnovers. If the Celtics hang close, I suspect it’ll be because the Jazz turn it over or because they couldn’t hit their 3s. Utah will also be without Mike Conley, though that just led to a near triple-double for Mitchell in Utah’s last game.
In the end, the Jazz are just too hot right now, and especially if Brown is out or even limited, I don’t trust the Celtics to score enough to hang with Utah. I’ll take a good look at Boston’s team under too, but as good as Boston is at keeping games within five points, Utah is even better at winning comfortably over the past month and they’re the much better team right now.
I’ll take the Jazz to dominate on defense and score with enough ease to cover. I’d play to -5.5 and would go another point or two if Brown is confirmed out.
Pick: Jazz -5.5