It felt good. I was just hoping it went in there. I had nothing left for OT, so I’m just happy it went in. —Boston's Jaylen Brown, on his game-winning 3-pointer
SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Jazz announced their 2017-18 schedule back in August, the lone Boston Celtics home game was circled on the calendar for obvious reasons.
For starters, the Jazz were fresh off the Gordon Hayward heartbreak, so the regular-season contest was to mark his return to Salt Lake City.
For two, it was a nationally televised game on ESPN, and Jazz center Rudy Gobert loves those.
“When the schedule comes out you just look and see how many TV games we got. I was like ‘one, two, three, four. OK. League pass, league pass it,’” Gobert said, scrolling down an imaginary list. “I think it’s good especially for most people that don’t have the chance to watch us. It’s a pretty good team to watch.”
Fast forward to seven months later.
The Celtics were in town Wednesday night, but it wasn’t the same game that fans were originally expecting in the offseason, featuring those sexy storylines.
Boston was playing without Hayward, as he continues rehab from his left ankle surgery, and without All-Stars Kyrie Irving (left knee) and Al Horford (left ankle), plus key contributors Marcus Morris (sprained right ankle) and Marcus Smart (thumb).
Even without their star players on the court, the feisty Celtics still stunned the red-hot Jazz 97-94 after Jaylen Brown’s game-winning 3-pointer from the top of the key with 0.3 seconds remaining.
“We guarded the initial play where they were trying to seal us to get to the rim and we defended it well, then the ball got skipped out to (Semi) Ojeleye and Jaylen Brown spaced, we had two guys run up the shooter and he got a three,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “They did a great job making the extra pass and finding the open guy.”
Brown ended with 21 points and five rebounds to help the undermanned Celtics win their fifth consecutive game and seven of their last 10.
“It felt good,” Brown said of his game-winning three. “I was just hoping it went in there. I had nothing left for OT, so I’m just happy it went in.”
Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum also added 16 points while Aron Baynes and Terry Rozier posted 13 points apiece. Utah failed to score in the final 2:25 as the Celtics closed the game on a 9-0 run.
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell scored 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to go along with six assists with Utah great John Stockton among the sellout crowd in Vivint Arena.
Utah led by as many as 11 in the second half, but fell apart in the final offensive possessions against Boston’s zone defense.
Both teams entered the matchup as the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked defenses in the league, and it showed as they both held each other below 45 percent shooting for the game. However, Boston did shoot 57.1 percent from beyond the arc, capped by Brown’s late-game dagger.
“The zone, anytime you see zone, really the things we were doing in the third quarter, you know when we play well offensively it’s the same principles as far as attacking the seam, being ready to shoot or make a play, and we know they’d come out in zone,” Snyder said. “We were trying to screen the backside of the zone and skip the ball over the top.”
At halftime, Boston led 48-39 after outscoring Utah 30-15 in the second quarter.
Gobert finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, Ricky Rubio flirted with a triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds while former Celtic Jae Crowder contributed 16 points and four rebounds off the bench in 29 minutes.
Utah (42-33) will host the Memphis Grizzlies next on Friday at 7 p.m. in Vivint Arena. Unfortunately that one isn’t a marquee TV game.
“It just counts as one,” Gobert said after the loss. “It hurts tonight, but tomorrow we’re going to get ready for the next one. They just wanted it more than us on some balls.”