BOSTON — On Tuesday, the Utah Jazz left Memphis with an impressive win. On Wednesday night in New England, they checked into Heartbreak Hotel.
Moments after Gordon Hayward gave the Jazz the lead with a sweet go-ahead bucket, Celtics center Tyler Zeller one-upped him by pushing up a game-winning basket at the buzzer.
And just like that, the Jazz’s season-high, three-game winning streak came to a painful halt.
You can imagine how somber the mood in the visitors locker room at TD Garden was after the rough 85-84 loss, which came oh-so close to being another fun win for the Jazz.
“I felt like we could have won the game,” Jazz power forward Derrick Favors said. “They made a good play at the end, just got the win.”
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said.
“Very tough,” Hayward added after taking a shower that failed to rinse away the emotional pain. “I think we were disappointed with our play overall as a team, because it (shouldn’t) come down to the last play. … This one tonight’s going to sting a little bit.”
After Hayward’s step-back jumper hit the bottom of the net to put the Jazz up 84-83 with 1.7 seconds left, the Celtics advanced the ball to their side with a timeout. Utah forced Boston to take another timeout to avoid a five-second turnover.
That’s when things went awry for Utah, which overcame an eight-point deficit in the final 2:30 minutes to briefly take the late lead.
The 7-foot-1 Gobert was assigned to guard the inbound pass of 6-4 guard Marcus Smart, and the Celtics’ rookie got the Jazz big man to lean the wrong way.
Meanwhile, Zeller managed to ditch his defender, the 6-10 Favors, when the Jazz switched on a screen. With Gobert sagging back out of position, Smart tossed a perfect pass to Zeller deep in the paint.
Zeller twisted away from Jazz rookie Rodney Hood, got a helping Hayward up in the air and then quickly released the winning shot before the buzzer sounded.
The ball dropped through the net.
And Jazz hearts dropped to the court.
“No matter what you do to win the game, you have to close,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Oftentimes, it comes down to someone making a play, and tonight they made a play.”
Snyder didn’t let his team off the hook for not making a play, either.
“We weren’t as aggressive on the ball as we needed to be. Rudy was too far back,” Snyder said. “We let him (Zeller) get on the inside of us where they could throw the ball over the top rather than stay between him and the basket. Two lessons learned.”
With how things turned out, did Snyder second-guess the defensive call of not having Gobert patrol the paint?
“We’ve always had Rudy on the ball. We had Fav in there. You can question everything that happens,” Snyder said. “He got behind us. Just a couple of little execution things that we didn’t do properly, and that was the result.”
Gobert, known as The Stifle Tower for his shot-blocking prowess, used the word “frustrating” multiple times in the locker room in regard to the game and how the final possession played out.
The 22-year-old Frenchman, who can be forthright and feisty, even voiced his opinion that he would’ve rather been closer to the basket.
“I think I would probably be more useful in the paint,” Gobert said, adding that he turned the wrong way after being faked out by Smart. “It’s very frustrating to see him score in the paint when I could have blocked the shot.”
Hayward, now 1-3 against his old college coach’s NBA team, wasn’t surprised the Celtics had a good response to spoil his moment.
“It was a great pass. That’s what Coach (Brad) Stevens does. He’s excellent in those situations of coming up with a play. I know it better than anybody,” Hayward said of his Butler bench boss.
“It’s a great play, great design. They knew we were switching. The pass had to be perfect to get over Rudy and Rod, and it was and then (Zeller) made a good finish too.”
Favors and point guard Trey Burke each scored 16 points to lead Utah, which struggled offensively until late in the fourth quarter. The Jazz (24-36) scored only 33 points in the first half, and looked like an exhausted team that arrived at its Boston hotel at 3 a.m.
“It’s a back-to-back. We looked like we were a step slow for a good part of the game,” Snyder said. “But the last few minutes, we really pulled together and competed and did some really good things.”
Just not quite enough.
The Jazz will have to wait until Friday at Philadelphia to try and match last season’s win total.
Boston (24-35) only committed a franchise-record three turnovers while helping itself in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with the win. Guard Isaiah Thomas, the NBA Player of the Week after being traded from Phoenix, led the Celtics with 21 points. Jae Crowder added 18 points off the bench for Boston, which lost big, 110-79, at Cleveland on Tuesday night.
“We were expecting to come out and respond very well,” said Smart, who was drafted one spot after Jazz rookie Dante Exum last June. “The other night (in Cleveland) was embarrassing to ourselves, to this organization and to the game of basketball.”