Celts snap slide

In the midst of their first losing streak of the season and with an eight-day layoff looming, a win was vital for the Celtics Monday night. 

With the Sprague Olympians visiting, McNary (11-6, 3-2) controlled the tempo and pace for most of the game after recovering from yet another slow offensive start. But once the Celtics took the lead in the first they never looked back on the way to a 53-32 win. 

“It’s a unique zone, they’ve ran it all year long,” McNary head coach Ryan Kirch said. “The first time we played them we had a pretty good idea how to attack it, but it’s really hard to mimic in practice. They’ve got a lot of length and athleticism. We were sped up a little bit early on, but those holes and gaps were open that we thought would be.”

The 1-3-1 zone and length from Sprague (8-9, 2-3) clogged the inside and closed passing lanes, making things tough for McNary early on. 

Jabol Balos-Mesey came off the bench for McNary to score 15 points. He had six in the first quarter, using his quickness to cut through the Sprague zone and to the hoop. 

“To have somebody that comes in that’s dynamic, we know he’s a starter,” Kirch said. “But you bring a guy off the bench like that, he instantaneously is going to make the game more in your favor because he’s going to probably be more talented than what the other team is bringing in off the bench.”

Kirch said that the decision to have Balos-Mesey come off the bench was a matter of matchups and setting rotations. The length of Sprague’s starting five pushed Kirch and McNary to put out a slightly larger starting lineup.

And the decision paid off.

Balos-Mesey had one of the best shooting performances for McNary this season, missing just two shots from the floor, hitting 82% on field goals. He also had 4 steals, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks.

As a team, the Celtics had 9 steals and 9 deflections, forcing 14 turnovers from the Olympians.

“Really what was able to get us going is our defense creates our offense,” Kirch said. “We were really sound defensively in the half court and we were able to get some stops, some run outs and get some easy baskets there, which was our plan. If you can beat them up and down the floor before they set into it, usually you’re able to get some easy baskets.”

The Celtics were up 26-19 at halftime, and some adjustments helped them pull away.

Sprague pulled to within three early in the third quarter at 26-23, but a 3-pointer from Jando Gonzalez put McNary back up six, closing out the quarter on an 8-0 run to go up 11. 

At 6-feet-9-inches, Sprague’s Jake Horn was easily the biggest on the floor. In fact, Sprague has only one player on the roster under 6-foot. And McNary’s tallest starter, 6-foot-3-inch Brody Roth, found himself down low, banging with Horn and the Olympians.

Roth, the leading scorer on the season for McNary, was quiet offensively, scoring just one point in the first half before finishing the game with 8. But Roth said he just tried to stay aware that the game isn’t all about offense, and focused on defense and rebounding, grabbing a game-high 9 boards.

“It’s a little intimidating seeing 6-foot-9 going in and crashing for a board but rebounding is a physical thing,” Roth said. “When I get assigned the role I just take it and accept it for what it is. I kind of enjoy bringing the intensity up for the team too.”

They used the Olympians’ own size against them, as well, getting them in foul trouble early.

But the Celtics weren’t able to cash in as much as they should have. 

With more than 5 minutes to play in the second quarter, McNary was in the bonus. But they only managed to shoot three free-throws, and were just 3-for-11 from the line in the game. 

Sophomore guard Steven Adams led all scorers with 18 points, including two big first quarter 3-pointers that gave the Celtics some separation early on. 

This was the second meeting between the two this season. The first, on Jan. 5, was a 62-55 McNary overtime win.  

This season there’s a third matchup on the calendar for Feb. 14 at Sprague.

“We’ve never played anybody a third time so it’ll be much similar the third time around I imagine,” Kirch said. “That’s the fun part of being in a league. There’s no surprises, you know what you’re going to get.”