Just try overlooking Jazz at Celtics now. Lottery team vs. lottery team, the season down to the final full month of the regular season, a matchup that easily could have blended into the background, and then this.
Some night for the Boston point guards. Newly acquired Isaiah Thomas, named the Eastern Conference player of the week two days before, had a game-high 21 points, and then Marcus Smart delivered the last of his three assists with a perfect pass in a difficult situation — from out of bounds, finding his man in a seam of the Utah defense — that Tyler Zeller turned into the winning basket at the buzzer.
Not merely the highlight of the night, it will undoubtedly become one of Smart’s best passes of the entire season.
Smart had the hard part. Inbounding the ball at the three-point line extended to the right of the basket, with 1.7 seconds remaining, and taking advantage when 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert gave Smart room, even though the Jazz put Gobert on him to supposedly make life difficult for Smart, the Celtics rookie delivered a two-hand overhead pass almost directly under the basket after Zeller got behind defender Rodney Hood. Zeller had to corkscrew to get free as Gordon Hayward and Gobert converged to help, increasing the degree of difficulty beyond the typical banking lay-in.
Utah led 84-83 after Hayward’s jumper with 1.7 seconds to go. Boston called timeout, needing a response not only to the late Jazz basket but to 31-point loss at Cleveland the night before. The Celtics had already lost an eight-point lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. They were on the verge of losing the game, too, when coach Brad Stevens drew up the play in the huddle. Smart and Zeller could not have executed it any better.
Pride. That’s it. Otherwise, it was a team winning to improve to 23-35 and a team losing to drop to 24-35. It was a fun moment for the Celtics, not an important one.
It matched the importance. Some of the Celtics charged from the bench, at the same end as the winning basket, to party with Zeller, but there was no mob scene. The best part may have been Stevens embracing Hayward, the former Butler coach with his former Butler star player, at midcourt. The Boston faithful who haven’t had much to cheer this season gave an appreciative loud response.
Points off because of the lack of importance. But the pass was special and Zeller had to work to get the shot off with about two-tenths of a second remaining. Three Horrys.