By The Sports Xchange
SALT LAKE CITY — Boston found all sorts of ways to torment Utah’s defense for four quarters.
The Celtics knocked down one shot after another in a 112-104 victory over the Jazz on Saturday night. They unloaded every available tool to pick Utah apart, relying on a combination of crisp passes, well-timed cuts to the rim and open shots to overpower one of the league’s best defensive teams on the road.
In the end, the Celtics shot 59.2 percent from the field and led by as many as 23 points.
As well as Boston did on offense, the Celtics got the ball rolling by keeping the Jazz in check on the other end of the court with their defense.
“We were just defending,” guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We were doing what we needed to do. Marcus Smart played a hell of a game defensively. Al (Horford) does what he does on the defensive end. Guys were talking and communicating. It was one of the most complete games we’ve played, other than the last couple of minutes.”
Thomas scored 29 points and Kelly Olynyk added 19 to lead the Celtics. Gerald Green and Al Horford each chipped in 16 points and Horford added eight rebounds.
Boston (35-19) swept the season series with Utah after beating the Jazz 115-104 on Jan. 3. It also marked the ninth win in the last 10 games for Boston, which had six different players reach double figures.
“I thought we were going to need all 13 (players) and I think we’re still going to need all 13,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “It was a really good win with a lot of guys stepping up and playing well.”
Gordon Hayward scored 31 points and George Hill added 22 to lead the Jazz. Rudy Gobert also finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds for his 37th double-double of the season.
Utah (34-21) could not overcome poor shooting and struggled to get defensive stops during critical stretches. The Jazz never led.
“We just didn’t execute what we were trying to do,” Hayward said. “Because of that, they got open looks from three and at the rim and they knocked them down. I felt like every time we made a run, they hit a dagger and put it back up to 15 or 16 points or whatever.”
Boston stayed one step ahead of the Jazz throughout the first quarter behind blistering shooting around the basket and on the perimeter. The Celtics scored on their first three possessions, culminating in a dunk from Amir Johnson, to sprint out to a 7-1 lead. It set the tone for a quarter where Boston shot 14 of 18 from the field and generally flustered the Jazz defense.
Utah managed to tie it a couple times, the second time knotting it at 11 on an open jumper by Derrick Favors. But the Celtics answered with back-to-back baskets from Thomas and Marcus Smart to retake the lead.
Olynyk finished the quarter with a 3-pointer and a buzzer-beating layup to put Boston ahead by double digits for the first time at 33-23.
The Jazz cut the lead to 37-30 early in the second quarter on a dunk from Derrick Favors. Boston answered with a 10-0 run to blow the game open before halftime. Green kick-started the run with three straight baskets and Thomas finished it off with a pair of free throws to put the Celtics up 47-30 with 5:28 remaining in the half.
Boston led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter, going up 53-34 on an open 3-pointer from Horford with 4:06 to go before halftime. The Celtics did most of their damage around the basket, outscoring Utah 28-14 in points in the paint in the first two quarters.
“We weren’t really good around the rim,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It makes it hard on offense when can’t score a little bit off of your defense and you can’t get stops. I thought that was a problem early.”
Utah cut the lead to single digits again in the third quarter. The Jazz closed to within 64-56 on a reverse dunk from Gobert. Olynyk countered with a 3-pointer and James Young followed with a running layup and another 3-pointer to push the Celtics’ lead back to double-digits at 72-58.
It was one of many stretches where Boston’s bench made pivotal plays to stay in front of Utah.
“Guys are just taking advantage of their opportunity — whenever that comes,” Thomas said.
Boston pushed its lead to 85-65 after opening the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run. Thomas fueled the run by feeding Horford for a 3-pointer and then burying one of his own on the ensuing possession.
The Jazz made one final rally, cutting the Celtics’ lead to 108-102 on a corner three from Hayward with 22 seconds left. Horford and Marcus Smart each hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to seal the win.
NOTES: Boston F Jae Crowder (personal reasons) did not play for the second straight game. He is averaging 14.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game this season. … Jazz G Rodney Hood missed his fifth straight game with a right knee bone contusion and LCL sprain. … Celtics G Isaiah Thomas leads the NBA in fourth-quarter points (514) and fourth-quarter scoring average (10.3). It has helped him score 20-plus points in a career-best 38 consecutive games, two shy of the franchise mark held by John Havlicek (1972-73). … Since the start of February, Jazz F Gordon Hayward is averaging 29.0 points per game — sixth highest among NBA players for the month. He has shot 55.8 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from the perimeter during that stretch.