Moore’s Celtics-Jazz Preview: Finding an Edge With Two Flawed Teams
Photo credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum
Betting odds: Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz
- Spread: Jazz -6
- Over/Under: 206
- Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
- TV channel: ESPN
> All odds as of 1 p.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NBA odds and track your bets
The Utah Jazz finished the 2017-18 season going 29-6. This, by the measure of their fans and advocates, was the “real” Jazz team. This of course assumed that at full strength, fully optimized, for an entire season, the Jazz would win 68 games. If that seems unreasonably high, well, that’s because it is. But their dismissal of the Thunder in the first round was supposed proof of how good this team is.
The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, reached the conference finals despite missing Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. They were expected by many, including yours truly, to contend for 60-plus wins this season.
Both teams have coaches considered top five in the league, dynamic superstar guards, brilliant game-changers at center, dynamic shooters and weapons on the perimeter and excellent benches anchored by exciting young point guards.
The Jazz are 5-6; the Celtics 6-4.
Fine, not terrible, but they’ve looked far from the juggernauts they were built up to be going into this season. They meet Friday in a key game for both teams. The headline will be Gordon Hayward’s first game back, but this game stands as way bigger as a bellwether test for two teams trying to reach true contender status.
The Jazz opened as 3.5-point favorites and shifted to -6 after news dropped that Kyrie Irving would miss the game to attend his grandfather’s memorial service.
BOSTON’S NOT SURE WHO IT IS
This should have been pretty seamless. Sure, adding two high-usage stars like Hayward and Irving back in the mix would be awkward if you didn’t have a system, but the Celtics have Brad Stevens. Their system should accommodate everyone.
Funny story: The system makes sure everyone eats, but some folks have a bigger appetite.
Boston’s off-ball actions to create a good shot remain tremendous. The Celtics are 11th in spot-up points per possession (via Synergy), and 23.3% of their shots come from spot-ups, the most of any playset.
They are ninth in 3-point rate and a not-bad-given-their-volume 15th in their percentage from deep.
They create good looks with that ball movement:
Irving and Horford in pick-and-pop is a goddamn nightmare. If you don’t put two on ball, you’re turning the court into Kyrie’s playground. If you do, you’re letting Horford slip into a shot that he’s elite at converting:
Their problem has been on-ball. Irving struggled early in the season as he tried to play game-manager. He was making sharp passes and setting the table. And he wasn’t doing that badly, which is a credit to him. Unfortunately, Kyrie can only be so good trying to be Mike Conley.
Conley is better at that than him. What Conley cannot do is be Kyrie Irving in any regard. In the last week, we’ve seen Irving get a haircut and go back to the hyper-efficient gunner he is.
Against the Suns Thursday, Irving’s entire offensive conundrum manifested itself. In the first half, Irving had six possessions in the halfcourt that were either from pick-and-roll or isolation. He had 13 points and the Celtics were outscored by 20 with him on the floor. In the second half, Irving took matters into his own hands. He had 13 possessions from ISO and pick-and-roll, scored 26 points and was a plus-27.
That’s how it goes. Irving is one of the most dangerous scorers in the league, and he is wasted as a cog in the wheel. This is part of what makes the Warriors and Steph Curry so exceptional; he’s a model for Irving in that he constantly moves off-ball and generates insane scoring binges without the ball being in his hands all the time.
The offense for Boston in many ways has to start Irving first and then flow around the others. Horford can act as a primary playmaker and secondary scorer, setting the offense.
Hayward, once he returns to his normal self (which is taking longer than expected) can fill those gaps. Irving has a select number of truly great passes in his bag, but at his core, he’s a scorer. He doesn’t have a great instinct for getting others involved.
Jayson Tatum has been called to the carpet by Celtics fans for basically… playing like Irving needs to but doing so badly.’