By Christopher Cohen, Sports Editor
The Boston Celtics have jumped ahead of the Toronto Raptors for a three game lead in the Atlantic Conference standings after a victory over the Utah Jazz.
Without Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley, the Celtics were shorthanded going into one of the hottest contests between up and coming teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences. Filling in for Crowder was Jaylen Brown, who despite only playing for twelve minutes grabbed four rebounds and made his only shot attempt of the game to finish perfect from the field.
Marcus Smart filled in for Avery Bradley and contributed a team high 37 minutes of court action. Despite a poor shooting performance that included five missed three point attempts, Smart finished with ten points, five rebounds, five assists, and led the Celtics with three steals. Smart continues to develop into the dominant defensive disciple that Danny Ainge drafted to provide a ‘KG’ presence in the backcourt.
Speaking of Garnett, KG’s MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas continued to lead the Celtics in scoring as he bucketed 29 points on 9-16 from the field. Thomas shot 4-7 from behind the arc, and converted seven of nine free throws to lift Boston above a rapid Jazz offense. Thomas also tied Marcus Smart with five assists for the Celtics offense. Overall, Boston finished with 20 assists to Utah’s 16, four of which came from Brad Steven’s former Butler protégé, Gordon Hayward.
Hayward took advantage of Crowder’s absence as he drove the Jazz offense through the game, racking up 31 points and four assists in his game high 38 minutes of court action. Utah’s center from France, Rudy Gobert, complimented Hayward’s efforts with fourteen points and fourteen rebounds to complete the games only double-double performance.
Off the bench, Kelly Olynyk shined for Boston against Gobert as he tallied nineteen points and seven rebounds while shooting 8 of 11 from the field, including three three-pointers. Olynyk also dished three assists, swiped two steals, and swatted two shots to be Boston’s only stat sheet stuffer.
This comes on the heals of another road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Thomas’s 34 points lead the Celtics in the 120-111 victory over Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s Trail Blazers. Marcus Smart finished with eighteen points, and led the Celtics with five assists and five steals in his 38 minutes largely matched up on McCollum. Jaylen Brown finished with fourteen points and seven rebounds to lead the Celtics starters in effort within the paint.
Since a three game losing streak that concluded against Washington on January 24, the Celtics have won nine of their last ten games, including a seven game winning streak that faced Boston against Houston, Toronto, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
In their last meeting against the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics walked away with a narrow 109-104 victory in the TD Garden. Isaiah Thomas once again reigned supreme as he led the game with 44 points and 7 assists against Kyle Lowry. Against the Raptors, Thomas had Crowder to contribute fourteen points and eight rebounds to outlast the Raptors.
As Boston caps off back-to-back victories, the team prepares to venture south to play the Dallas Mavericks before returning for a quick home game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Following the quick stop in Boston, the Celtics will kick off a three game road trip that will bring them to Chicago before the all-star break, followed by games in Toronto and Detroit before the trading and resigning deadlines.