Game Preview: Celtics at Jazz

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics just knocked off a team on Saturday, the Clippers, that decided to go in another direction with its point guard position. The C’s (42-15) will look to duplicate that performance at 9 p.m. tonight in Utah when they take on the Jazz (32-28), who are just four days removed from trading Deron Williams to New Jersey.

The scope of Utah’s future has changed dramatically over the past two-plus weeks. Jerry Sloan, who was in his 23rd season as head coach of the Jazz, retired on Feb. 10 and was succeeded by Tyrone Corbin. Utah then shocked the NBA when it dealt Williams, possibly the best overall point guard in the league, to the Nets.

Devin Harris has now become the Jazz’s point guard of the future, and he has huge shoes to fill. Williams is having a career year in scoring with more than 21 PPG and he’s also third in the league in assists. Harris, meanwhile, has career averages of only 13.2 PPG and 5.0 APG, though he does have one All-Star appearance under his belt.

In addition to Harris, Utah also received rookie Derrick Favors in the deal as well as two future first-round picks. Favors is a talented but raw rookie who will seemingly struggle to play meaningful minutes behind Utah’s deep frontcourt, which already featured leading scorer Al Jefferson (17.8 PPG), Paul Millsap (17.3 PPG), Andrei Kirilenko (11.9 PPG) and Mehmet Okur, who is currently out with an injury.

In two games with the Jazz, Harris and Favors have averaged 15.5 PPG and 8.0 PPG, respectively. Harris seems to be fairly comfortable running Utah’s system already, but Favors has played an average of only 15.5 minutes a game with his new team.

While Utah continues to work those two new players into the rotation, Boston will do the same with Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, who were acquired from the Thunder at Thursday’s trade deadline. They made their debut with the Celtics during Saturday’s win over the Clippers and each made a solid contribution. Krstic, who is currently the starting center while Boston’s two O’Neals are out with injuries, grabbed six offensive rebounds and also dropped in nine points during 21 foul-plagued minutes. Green, who came off the bench and played just under 18 minutes, scored seven points on 2-of-5 shooting.

Doc Rivers liked what he saw from his two new players, but he understands that their integration within the system will take time.

“They were good,” Rivers said of Green and Krstic after Saturday’s win. “They didn’t know a lot of the things we were running. They both had some bright moments for us and you could see they’ll be really good. I’m going to have to figure out how to use Jeff, I have no idea yet. It’s going to take some time, and it’s the same thing with Nenad.”

Green also understands that this will be a process. He had spent his entire career with the same organization before making the move to the Celtics, but he believes Boston’s veteran leadership will make this transition smoother than it may have been on another team.

“It’s going to be a transition getting that lingo down, the terms they use, and the plays,” said Green. “We have great veterans. They will lead the way for me and show me what to do. I’m a fast learner.”

The confidence is clearly there for Green, as it should be. He is a career 14.2 PPG scorer who possesses great length and shooting ability. Green will likely do nothing but get better under the tutelage of Paul Pierce, whom he will back up for the remainder of the season.

Tonight will be Green and Krstic’s second opportunity to show how quickly they learn, and the Celtics hope that it will result in a similar outcome to Saturday’s win over the Clippers. Boston is 1-0 against Utah this season and scored 110 points on 55.2 percent shooting in that victory. Coming anywhere near those numbers tonight should keep Boston’s record unscathed with Green and Krstic on board, and that would send the C’s home with a 3-1 record on this four-game West Coast road trip.

Can Utah Handle the Green?

Boston completely dominated Utah in these teams’ first meeting of the season, a 110-86 blowout victory for the C’s in the Garden. None of the Celtics’ starting five logged more than 32 minutes of playing time in that contest, yet two of them, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, scored at least 20 points.

It was a domination from start to finish for Boston, and there were no excuses for the Jazz. Utah did not have any major injuries play a role in that game, it was not playing in the second night of a back-to-back and it had just made the short pilgrimage from New Jersey two nights before. Boston simply handled the Jazz with ease, and there’s nothing that tells us it cannot happen again tonight.

Protect the Glass

The only area of the game that Boston did not dominate in the first meeting was rebounding. Part of that issue comes from the Celtics shooting a blistering 55.2 percent from the floor in that contest, but not a single Celtic player grabbed more than seven boards in the game.

What must have bothered Rivers about that contest was that three different Jazz players finished with at least two offensive rebounds. Three of those players made up Utah’s starting frontcourt. In order to grab a victory tonight, Boston’s frontline must box out and not allow the Jazz to grab second-chance points. Offensive rebounds can lead to a boost of energy for a roster, and the C’s don’t want the Jazz to experience that tonight.

KG in the Post

When the Celtics believe Garnett has a clear advantage in the post, they’re going to go to it time after time. That’s exactly what they did back on Jan. 21, when Garnett dropped in a game-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting over Millsap.

Millsap is only 6-foot-8, while Garnett is a lanky 6-11. That size advantage allows Garnett to get his shot off essentially whenever he wants, and Millsap simply cannot challenge it enough to make the shot more difficult. KG set the pace for the C’s in that first matchup, and Boston will probably look to make that happen again tonight. Expect plenty of post ups for the Big Ticket, and a solid point total in the box score when all is said and done.