C’s lose lead late, drop to third in 118-117 loss

The Celtics slipped to third in the East after losing the lead in a loss to the Jazz originally featured on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics should have left Utah with their third consecutive victory on the trip, but the Jazz rallied late in the fourth quarter to hand the C’s a 118-117 loss.

The Celtics had a 19-point first-half lead and also led 117-113 with 1:19 left in the game. But the Celtics couldn’t hold on and are now third in the Eastern Conference behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 25 points, while Lauri Markkanen topped the Jazz with 28.

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The Celtics’ journey resumes Tuesday night against the Kings in Sacramento. The Kings are second in the Western Conference and have won eight of their last 10 games.

But before we look at that game, here are three Celtics-Jazz takeaways.

1) Celtics drop in rankings

The Celtics clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night as a result of the Miami Heat’s loss to the Chicago Bulls. However, the Celtics’ loss to the Jazz, combined with the 76ers’ victory over the Indiana Pacers earlier in the day, left Boston in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks: 50-20

  2. Philadelphia 76ers: 48-22, 2GB

  3. Boston Celtics: 49-23, 2GB

  4. Cleveland Cavaliers: 45-28, 6.5GB

The Celtics were alone in first place just a few weeks ago, but have lost six of their last 11 games. Four of those six defeats were decided by four or fewer points.

Boston is now in a tough fight for the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs. What is the importance of seed #2? Achieving this would secure the Celtics home advantage for at least the first two rounds of the postseason. The #3 seed guarantees you home court in the first round only.

The Celtics are a tough team to beat at TD Garden, where they have the second-best home record in the league at 26-9. The C’s finished the 2021-22 regular season strong and clinched the No. 2 seed, which gave them home field advantage for the first two rounds. They eliminated the Bucks in the second round with a Game 7 win at the Garden. The series might have been different if Game 7 had been in Milwaukee.

Fortunately for the Celtics, the Sixers have the toughest remaining schedule based on their opponent’s winning percentage. Philly still has games left against quality teams like the Bucks, Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns. But the last 10 games won’t be easy for the Celtics. They have the ninth toughest remaining schedule, including four away games and two straight.

Health should be the #1 priority for the Celtics for the rest of the regular season, but they still have to try to finish ahead of the 76ers for second place.

2) Jazz dominates the offensive glass

One area where the Jazz really hurt the Celtics was offensive glass. Utah took a 17-5 lead in offensive rebounds and scored 20 second-chance points as a result. Walker Kessler had eight offensive rebounds alone.

The Celtics lost two of their best rebounds on Robert Williams III and Al Horford, but the Celtics should have been prepared for that kind of effort by the Jazz on the charts. Utah entered this game ranked 4th in the league in second chance points per game and 5th in offensive rebounds per game. Offensive glass has been a huge part of the Jazz’s success this season, so the C’s should have been aware of that and put up a better fight than they have.

The Jazz won the rebounding battle 56-40 overall, and their starters outscored the Celtics’ starters 45-21.

Rebounding is very important to winning games, and this is an area where the Celtics need to improve ahead of the playoffs.

3) Grant Williams finds his groove

It’s no secret that March was a tough month for Williams. He came into Saturday averaging just 5.4 points and shooting 35.3 percent from the floor in seven games. In fact, he scored 16 points in his previous four games combined.

Williams got back on pace against the Jazz. He scored 23 points and was 7-of-12 from 3-point range, along with four rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes.

Williams caught fire in the fourth quarter when he made three 3-pointers in a span of 154 seconds to increase Boston’s lead to 108-101. He was stuffed at the hoop on the final play of the game, but overall it was a positive performance for him.

The Celtics will need Williams to be an effective playoff player. It’s hard to imagine Boston winning four rounds en route to a championship if Williams isn’t a consistent 3-eD player. His ability to stretch the ground and hit 3-pointers at a rate of 37 to 40 percent, as well as playing quality defense against wingers, makes him a valuable part of the Celtics’ rotation.

Saturday night’s performance was a step in the right direction for Williams as he looks to regain his confidence and shooting skills ahead of the start of the first round of the playoffs.

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