Jazz 110, Celtics 92: NBA's best no test for Utah
BOSTON - No matter how black and blue (or whatever other color) the welt under his right eye turns in the coming days, Deron Williams will be proud to wear it as a badge of honor earned in one of the Jazz's biggest victories of the season.
There was no mistaking which game the Jazz had circled on this four-game trip. They jumped on the Boston Celtics early and pulled away down the stretch to take a 110-92 victory Friday night at TD Banknorth Garden.
It was the worst loss of the season for the Celtics, who own the NBA's best record at 51-13. Not only did the Jazz avenge their last home loss, but they also snapped the Celtics' 10-game winning streak, their longest since 1986.
At the center of it all was Williams, who came back after just 1:26 of rest to start the fourth quarter and scored 13 of his game-high 32 points to finish off the Celtics, withstanding a flagrant foul shot to the head from Kendrick Perkins with 2:54 left.
"This victory right here definitely gives us a lot of confidence," Williams said. "It's a great victory for us on the road. We've struggled all season on the road and for us to come in here and play like the way we did the whole game just says a lot, [to] close a great team out."
For all their struggles on the road this season, the Jazz became just the fifth team (joining Detroit, Charlotte, Washington and Toronto) to beat the Celtics at home. The Jazz built a 14-point lead in the first half and never let Boston closer than three in the fourth quarter.
"I thought they just wanted it," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "They played harder, they played more aggressive, they were more physical, they were tougher and they beat us. It doesn't happen often, but it happened tonight."
Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 15 points after making just 1 of 7 shots in the first half, but Ray Allen suffered a bruised left heel in the first quarter and did not return.
Even the Jazz had to admit after Friday's victory that they have mastered the art of playing to the level of their opponent. They had opened this trip with a 108-96 loss to Chicago, then needed an 11-point comeback in the fourth quarter to beat Milwaukee.
Yet the Jazz played like a team with payback on its mind after losing 104-98 to the Celtics at EnergySolutions Arena on Dec. 29. They have won 18 consecutive home games since that loss, only one victory shy of the franchise record.
"Those are the games you circle on your calendar, when you're playing against the best teams," Carlos Boozer said, "because you know in the playoffs you're going to be playing against the best teams. I think everybody came prepared tonight."
The Jazz led 33-23 after the first quarter, scored 62 points by halftime and finished the game on a 17-3 run. The fourth quarter, meanwhile, belonged to Williams on a night in which he converted 17 of 18 free throws and had eight assists.
Midway through the fourth, Williams missed a jumper, then hustled back on defense to steal a James Posey pass. At the other end, Williams hit a floater, then followed a minute later by shouldering past Eddie House and drilling a 10-footer.
The Celtics had gotten as close as 93-89 with 5:25 left but came up empty on five straight possessions, starting with missed three-pointers by Posey and Paul Pierce. Boozer hit a turnaround to make it 98-89 with 4:00 to play.
The frustration then came out on Perkins' part. Williams drove on Rajon Rondo when Perkins reached in from behind and clocked him. "It looked he did a little extra swipe at the end," Williams said. "He fouled me and then came down through, hit me in the eye."
Perkins was assessed a first-degree flagrant foul and stayed in the game. Williams picked himself up, sank his two free throws, drew an offensive foul on Rondo and nailed a three-pointer. The yell he unleashed after the three-pointer said everything.
"I was a little mad," Williams said.
For his part, Boozer said the shiner was "well deserved" and that Williams responded when the Celtics tested him. "He played great," Boozer said of Williams, now averaging 21 points and 14 assists in March, "even with a hell of a headache."