After giving Celtics Nation a great Christmas gift, the Celtics go back to work on the road against the Houston Rockets. It is another match-up against one of the top teams of the league. Even as the Rockets have not looked like themselves this year, they are starting to figure things out as of late. They’ve won seven out of their last eight games despite losing Chris Paul to a hamstring injury. It sets up for what should be a classic battle between two juggernauts of the NBA.
The Rockets also had a Christmas Day thriller as they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 with James Harden going off for 41 points. Harden will, of course, be the focal point of this Rockets team especially with Chris Paul unavailable. Because of Paul’s absence, Harden has been able to put the team on his back and has scored 30 points or more in a career-high seven games in a row.
To start the year, the Rockets went 11-14 and many questions came up about the team who was, similar to the Celtics, one half and some made shots in a Game 7 away from making the NBA Finals last season. Now, Houston is 18-15 securely in the Western Conference playoff seeding race. Boston will need a superb performance from the whole team tonight if they stand a chance to stop this hot streak the Rockets are on.
The good news is the Celtics are also on a hot streak of their own. Boston has won ten of the last thirteen games coming off their thrilling win on Christmas. As the Rockets have James Harden, the Celtics have Kyrie Irving. Untucked Kyrie Irving was in prime form for the most recent game against the 76ers. He took over the game getting the Celtics to overtime and then securing the victory hitting two huge three-pointers when they were needed the most. Even as the team looks for a more complete effort tonight in Houston, it is a great security blanket to have a player of Kyrie’s caliber being able to take over games in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
In addition to Kyrie’s offense, the Celtics will need to play incredible team defense to slow down Harden and this offense. The Rockets was just able to put up 113 points on the league’s best defense, so the stakes will be high to control the game from the defensive end and then create offense out of that. Outside of Harden, Eric Gordon has the potential to have himself a 20-point game, and, down low, there is Clint Capela who is an excellent rebounder with a chance to have a major game as Boston’s frontcourt could use some help. If Al Horford can take the same approach he had towards Joel Embiid last game and apply it towards Capela, that approach will limit his production and impact on both ends of the court. Horford was very impressive against Embiid and can be as well against Capela tonight.
The main injury question going into tonight was the status of James Harden. He is officially questionable with a calf injury. However, many have suggested that he is just being precarious going on the injury report, and multiple confirm that he is playing tonight. Harden is one of the biggest competitors in the league, so he was not going to pass up the opportunity to play the Boston Celtics primetime on TNT if he can help it. Outside of that, the Rockets will be without Chris Paul and James Ennis. The Ennis injury has given rise to Danuel House Jr. out of Texas A&M. He has contributed quality minutes for the team on both ends of the court.
The Celtics will only be without Aron Baynes again as he will not be back for another few weeks recovering from surgery to his hand. Their starting lineup will be the same as Christmas. It will be crucial for the Celtics to get into this game early on and not let Houston start rolling. The Houston crowd can be rowdy sometimes, so this will be important early on for the C’s.
PG – Kyrie Irving – Eric Gordon
SG – Marcus Smart – James Harden
SF – Jayson Tatum – Danuel House Jr.
PF – Marcus Morris Sr. – P.J.Tucker
C – Al Horford – Clint Capela
Boston – Aron Baynes (Out, Hand)
Houston – Chris Paul (Out, Hamstring); James Ennis (Out, Hamstring); James Harden (Questionable, Calf); Carmelo Anthony (Out, “Rest”)
How To Watch
Time – 8:00 EST
TV – TNT / NBC Sports Boston