The first game back at home following a long road trip out west is always tough and the effects of that journey were clear early on, as the weary Celtics squad struggled to contain a dangerous Houston Rockets team in the opening half.
The game appeared to be quickly turning into a blowout in the first half, as Houston had little trouble driving into the lane for easy buckets. Houston managed to pile up 30 points in the paint over the first two frames, while shooting over 52 percent from the field. Donatas Motiejunas led the way, scoring 16 of his game-high 26 points in the half.
Whatever coach Brad Stevens said to his team at halftime seemed to ignite the Celtics ferocious defense. Boston held the Rockets to a mere 9 points in the third quarter as they closed the gap to single digits heading into the final quarter.
The Rockets offense is built to drain three's, but those shots weren't falling for them tonight. A staggering 34.6% of the points Houston had scored this season entering this game have come from beyond the arc, which easily leads the league, yet Boston held them to only 8-for-30 (26.7%) from long range.
Boston also did a tremendous job of limiting James Harden to only 14 points on 4-for-21 shooting from the field. The league's leading scorer has taken more free throw attempts than anyone in the league this season by a mile, but was held to only 5 trips to the charity stripe tonight. Marcus Smart locked down Harden with tenacious defense in the second half to take arguably the best player in the league this season out of the game.
Teams typically can't afford to use undersized frontcourts against the Rockets, but with Dwight Howard out of the lineup, the Celtics were able to stick with Brandon Bass in the starting lineup and he rewarded them with a team-high 17 points, while chipping in 8 boards.
A disappointing performance from Jared Sullinger became a factor down the stretch. Sullinger was held to 8 points on 4-of-14 shooting and missed a pair of ill-advised three-pointers late in the fourth quarter when Boston had a chance to take the lead.
Boston shot only 35.6% from the field against a Houston defense that ranks third in Defensive Efficiency (99.4), yet managed to stay in the game until the very end. Despite the poor offensive performance, the Celtics have to be pleased with their second half effort on the defensive end.