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Boston » Only 11 months ago, the Jazz came to TD Garden and lost to a Boston Celtics team that was 23-2 at the time, riding a 15-game winning streak and appearing destined to hang an 18th championship banner at season's end.
With the return to health of Kevin Garnett and the arrival of Rasheed Wallace, this season's Celtics might be even stronger, but the Jazz nevertheless looked about as stiff as Deron Williams' back in a punchless 105-86 loss Wednesday night.
The gap between the teams seemed about as wide as Cape Cod Bay afterward, with Williams describing the Jazz as "soft" and coach Jerry Sloan admitting, "We're trying to find ourselves a little bit right now."
"We really didn't give them much opposition, especially in the third quarter," Sloan said, adding, "They were just all over us. We looked like we'd never played a game that difficult. They were the reason why. And it wasn't a lot of fun to watch."
The Jazz never led and trailed by 22 at the end of the third quarter. Sloan called timeouts less than four minutes into both the first and third quarters and benched Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur just 3:42 into the second half for Kyrylo Fesenko and Paul Millsap.
"I wouldn't mind them rebounding," Sloan said. "There isn't any rules against them rebounding. I mean, if you're just going to stay out there and shoot shots and not defend and not rebound ... I thought, well, we'd try somebody else."
Boozer and Okur combined for five rebounds in a combined 52 minutes. Sloan also brought in Millsap for Boozer just 4:23 into the first quarter after the Celtics had scored 14 points, including back-to-back layups by Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.
"I just thought coach was trying to mix it up a little bit," Boozer said. "I don't know, maybe he was trying to do something different, spark the team. I have no idea. I don't know if it worked or not. You guys be the judge of that."
Williams finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes after deciding just an hour before the game that he could play through the strained back he suffered in Monday's victory over New York.
He didn't play in the fourth quarter with the game all but decided and was asked afterward if the Jazz (3-5) were capable of being as physical as needed.
"I don't know," Williams said. "Right now, we're soft. There's no way around it. We're not playing tough at all. They were quicker to loose balls, they got on the floor, they do the things that you have to do to win."
Boozer said the Jazz struggled with the Celtics' aggressive man-to-man defense after facing a zone defense for 31/2 quarters against the Knicks. "We didn't do a good job of adjusting games," he added.
The Celtics had seven players score in double figures, led by Garnett with 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, and made their push in the third quarter, something that Sloan noted is a hallmark of championship teams.
With a 54-44 lead at halftime, Boston scored on six of its first seven possessions of the quarter to build a 19-point cushion. The Celtics hit three three-pointers before passing circles around the Jazz before a Rondo layup made it 69-50.
From the post, Kendrick Perkins whipped a behind-the-back pass to Garnett at the foul line. Garnett then looked back inside to Rondo for the layup. Sloan immediately called timeout, his patience exhausted, and removed Boozer and Okur.
The Celtics kept rolling as they improved to 8-1 on the season. With 3:01 left in the quarter, Rondo (14 points, 11 assists) hit Garnett with a lob for a thunderous alley-oop dunk in the lane over Fesenko and Millsap.
They capped the quarter as Rondo went end to end in the final 3.8 seconds after Williams split two free throws. Rondo streaked down the sideline and took advantage of a screen for a layup at the buzzer to make it 84-62.
"They're a great team," Williams said. "They have a group of guys who know their roles 1 through 10. They come in, they do the job, they get stops. They don't coast. They hold everybody accountable. That's what it takes to be a championship team."
Boozer, meanwhile, was asked about the gulf between the Jazz and Celtics being as large as it appeared. "Tonight it was," he said. "It's hard to make an argument that it isn't after playing a game like that."
IN SHORT » The Jazz never lead and trail by 22 at the end of the third quarter in falling to the Celtics.
KEY MOMENT » Boston wins the third quarter 30-18, highlighted by Kevin Garnett's alley-oop dunk in the lane.
KEY STAT » The Jazz go 0-for-10 on three-pointers, with the Celtics scoring 25 points off their 21 turnovers.