BOSTON (AP) It seemed unlikely the Celtics could play better than they did during a 4-0 West Coast road trip that included three wins by 20-plus points.
They found a way to do just that.
Jayson Tatum scored 11 of his 26 points during Boston’s nearly perfect first quarter to help the Celtics roll to a 125-97 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
Jaylen Brown also added 26 points and Marcus Smart finished with a career-high 13 assists as Boston (46-28) recorded its fifth straight victory to improve its chances for one of the Eastern Conference’s top four seeds.
It’s given a team that was in ninth place and just two games above .500 on Jan. 31 a completely different outlook heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
”That’s crazy, right? Brown said. ”I feel like this was very prime for us, we just had to put full stretches together. I knew the energy was about to shift. So I’m happy that we’re here now.”
It’s taken the sting out of some early season losses, he said.
”As many games as we blew in the first half of the season – it would have been nice to have won some of those games because we would be in first right now,” Brown said. ”But everything happens for a reason. We take it one game at a time and we’ll see where we’re at playoff time.”
Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points but Utah (45-28) lost consecutive games for the first time since the end of January, a span of 21 games. Rudy Gobert added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Jazz tried their best to keep pace all night, but simply couldn’t get enough shots to fall. They entered the night as the NBA’s sixth-best scoring offense (113.7 points per game), but were held under 100 points for the first time in 12 games.
Utah never got closer than 18 in the second half.
The Jazz particularly struggled from the outside, going 8 of 36 from the 3-point line. Utah also had only 13 assists on 35 made baskets.
Gobert said the Jazz’s issues over the past two losses are becoming repetitive.
”It’s the same things that happen when we stop playing the way we’re supposed to play and we want to play, and we want to be a championship team,” Gobert said. ”It’s defense and offensively it’s sharing the ball.”
Boston hit its first 10 shots of the game, including six 3-pointers, on the way to jumping out to a 28-12 lead. Its first miss didn’t come until the 4:05 mark of the opening quarter when a layup by Brown rolled off the rim.
It was one of the few miscues for the Celtics, who ended the period with a 39-24 lead. They went 15 of 19 from the field, 7 of 9 from beyond the arc and held a 12-2 rebounding edge.
The lead grew as high as 30 in the second quarter and Boston took a 68-45 advantage into halftime. Smart ended the half with 10 assists in just 15 minutes of action.
Boston collectively had a season-high 37 assists on the night, while also shooting a season-best 59% from the floor.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka said the unselfishness is becoming contagious. He’s hopeful it’s just the beginning.
”Guys are confident, playing free and playing together,” Udoka said. ”I think we all feel there’s another level we can take it to.”
Jazz: Had only seven assists on 17 field goals in the first half. . Udoka Azubuike (right ankle sprain), Bojan Bogdanovic (left calf sprain), Danuel House (left knee bruise) all sat out.
Celtics: It was the 18th consecutive game Tatum has scored at least 20 points. . Had 13 assists in the first quarter.
Jazz: Continue six-game road trip at Charlotte on Friday.
Celtics: Host Minnesota on Sunday.
Courtesy: CBS Sports