The Boston Celtics sit alone atop both the NBA and the Eastern Conference with a 22-2 record and a 14 game win streak. The Cleveland Cavaliers recently had their 11 game win streak stopped by the high flying Atlanta Hawks and the green team had to face the last team that hung a double digit beatdown on them last March in the Utah Jazz (15-10). Even though they don't have the injured Carlos Boozer that doesn't make them any less dangerous with both Andrei Kirilenko and Kyle Korver on the bench.
The Celtics got out to a fast start as Rajon Rondo took control of the game from the opening tip. His constant defensive pressure on Deron Williams and his aggressiveness on offense led to easy baskets for his teammates. Rondo knived to the hole time and time again while Kevin Garnett (19 pts 10 rebs 4 ast 3 stl) finished and Kendrick "The Hulk" Perkins dominated the boards on both ends of the court and provided some offensive punch to go along with it. The Celtics had problems with turnovers but they still finished the 1st quarter up 28-16.
In the second quarter, Rajon Rondo came out of the game and was replaced by Gabe Pruitt due to the absence of Eddie House. Without their point guard and with the ongoing plague of turnovers they completely lost their momentum. They held on to a double digit lead until 7:50 in the 2nd quarter before an ineffective bench, bad officiating and constant turnovers brought the Jazz right back into the game. Defensive rotations led to easy baskets for Paul Milsap all night long (32 points 10 rebounds) and he gave the Jazz a 2 point lead @ 3:00 (39-37) @ 2:00 left (41-39) and @ 37.3 left (43-41) in the half. Kendrick Perkins had a double double and the C's tied the game at 43-43 going into the half.
The Celtics started the 3rd quarter by getting back to the same things that got them their lead initially: defense. After failing to score following a few stops at the other end of the court they finally got one to drop. Next came another stop and a transition hoop and after yet another stop Rajon Rondo streaked down the court and found Ray Allen (12 pts) alone in the corner for three. The Celtics were up 50-43 @ 9:24 left in the 3rd and the Jazz took a timeout. The Celtics couldn't push the lead higher than 9 (60-51) due to turnovers and foul trouble. A couple of bad calls brought the lead all the way down to 2 and the lead was just 69-65 going into the final frame.
The 4th quarter started out sloppy as the turnovers and bad calls continued on and the Celtics and Jazz went back and forth trading baskets. Paul Milsap and Deron Williams closed the lead to 73-70 before Gabe Pruitt (8 pts 1 stl) stepped up and knocked down his second three of the night to double the lead 76-70 @ 9:00 left in the game. The Celtics defense put the screws to the Jazz and their rebounding kept them in the lead and Rajon Rondo put the C's up 85-76 with 5:11 to go. The Jazz slimmed the margin to 89-85 before Rajon Rondo drove to the hole and made it 91-85. Deron Williams took the ball and split the defense to finish at the cup to make it 91-87 @ 2:40 left in the contest.
Rajon Rondo got fouled at the other end and hit a free throw to make it 92-87. After an Okur miss from deep the Celtics pushed the ball down the court to Kendrick Perkins who put a move on Mehmet Okur and scored pushing the lead to 94-87. Deron Williams brought the ball up and hit a jumper from the top of the key, 94-89. Perkins got fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and hit a free throw to make it 95-89 @ 1:31 remaining in the game. At the other end the C's got a stop and Rajon Rondo tore down the court, got into the paint and hit an impossible layup with 43.6 seconds left, 97-89 Celtics. Mehmet Okur had his shot altered by Kendrick Perkins (15 pts 14 rebs) who came down with the rebound but Okur fell into Paul Pierce (15 pts 5 rebs 3 ast) and hit his knee @ 31.0 seconds.
Pierce was carried off the court but later on his was able to put weight on it and walked into the locker room under his own power. Rajon Rondo (25 pts 9 reb 8 ast 3 stl) got fouled and hit a free throw and he then stole an inbounds pass and hit two more free throws after he he fouled. The game ended at 100-91 and Rondo scored 12 points in the 4th quarter to power the Celtics to another win despite committing 23 turnovers that resulted in 30 Utah points. The Celtics outrebounded the Jazz 50-30 and outscored them 57-48 in the second half to win their 15th straight game and tie the NBA record for the best 25 game start in NBA history (23-2).
On Wednesday, the Celtics go to Atlanta to face the resurgent Hawks and hopefully extend their league leading winning streak. Even when they play badly and are missing key contributors they find a way to pull it out at the end. That's the sign of a special team.