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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
Steve Hewitt

Celtics clinch playoff spot, but alarming issues persist in loss to Jazz

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla continues to harp on the little things and the margins but they’re not getting through to his team. The Celtics keep building double-digit leads and blowing them.

The Celtics clinched a playoff spot on Saturday night because of the Heat’s loss to the Bulls, but it won’t matter if these problems persist.

The same movie keeps playing over and over for the Celtics, who are stuck in neutral as the playoffs near. A night after they seemed to be building some positive momentum on this road trip with a win over the Blazers, the Celtics fell back into bad habits and let their foot off the gas again. They responded in stretches but couldn’t overcome their flaws as they dropped another critical game with a frustrating 118-117 loss to the Jazz in Salt Lake City.

The Celtics trailed by one with five seconds left and the ball, but Grant Williams — who was otherwise having a redemption night after hitting a career-high seven 3-pointers — got the ball and tried to make a play at the rim, but was blocked by Walker Kessler to seal the loss.

With the loss, the Celtics dropped to third in the Eastern Conference behind the 76ers on percentage points with 10 games left in the regular season.

Jaylen Brown scored 25 points and Williams had 23. The Celtics made 22 3-pointers. But Jayson Tatum continued his inconsistent play since the All-Star break with just 15 points, which all came in the second quarter. The Celtics shot 43.1% from 3-point land, but previously were 29-0 when shooting at least 40% from long range, they dropped their first in large part because they couldn’t handle Utah on the glass. In a familiar theme, they allowed a season-high 17 offensive rebounds that led to 20 second-chance points.

The Celtics were undermanned — without Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Robert Williams — and were playing the second night of a back-to-back. But that didn’t stop them from building a 19-point lead in the first half that shrunk to one late in the second quarter and was lost when they went down by seven late in the third. They executed a few responses, but it wasn’t enough.

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