1. Some consider the Houston Rockets to be borderline unwatchable. They are mind-numbingly relentless in finding the most efficient shot possible. Sometimes this means watching James Harden dribble for 20 seconds before launching a step-back jumper. Other times, it involves multiple pick and rolls per possession. No matter what, you can’t argue with the effectiveness.
This game was the exact definition of what Houston wants on offense. The Rockets want to get layups/dunks, free throws or three-pointers. Nothing in between in the mid-range game. Against Boston they had 46 points in the paint, 27 at the foul line, and 54 on three-pointers for their total of 127 points. Absolute perfect execution of their offensive style.
2. Harden was a tough cover early and late for the Celtics. He scored 45 points for the game with 33 of them coming in the first and fourth quarters. And it didn’t have much to do with Boston’s approach to defending him either, outside of a couple of plays. Almost every shot he took was well-contested. It was very much a case of great offense beating good defense.
3. An example of this came on this play in the first quarter. Gordon Hayward is right on Harden’s shooting hand. Any closer and he fouls him. Hayward times his jump perfectly. Doesn’t matter:
4. One place where the game was arguably lost was losing non-Harden minutes. When the other team is built around a singular talent, as much as Houston is without Chris Paul, you can’t lose the minutes that player is off the floor. In this game, the Rockets outscored Boston by 12 points in the 9:29 that Harden sat. This included pushing a 4-point lead with 1:48 to go win the third quarter to an 11-point lead by the time Harden returned with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter. That’s simply not good enough to win a road game if you’re the Celtics.
5. There was some good to take away from this game. One thing was Kyrie Irving’s passing. He had the ball really popping at times, as he picked up 11 assists. This one will show up on the highlights for a while:
6. Another positive was Jaylen Brown’s play. He admitted after the game that his hand injury has been bothering him for over a month now, and it looked like it at times on his shot and when he was dribbling. That said, Brown was smartly aggressive about attacking the rim. In this clip, he goes right at Clint Capela on the switch and hammers home the lefty finish. These are the kinds of plays Boston wants, and needs, from Brown.
7. Back the other way…the Rockets killed the Celtics on the offensive glass. Houston grabbed 16 of their own misses, with every player who saw minutes grabbing at least one except for Harden. Capela was the main culprit, as he snagged nine offensive rebounds. Most of these came when Boston rotated over to defend against drives. That’s fine, but the execution miss is that no one would slide over to get a body on Capela after the shot was contested. Boston is always going to get beat to some extent on the boards, as they don’t have a dominant rebounder on the roster. But this was an embarrassing effort.
8. Speaking of embarrassing, nothing gets Brad Stevens more fired up than his team getting beat to loose balls. If one player is the offender, he’s often yanked at the next opportunity. If it’s the team as a whole, you know a timeout is coming. Two plays in succession drew Stevens’ ire. First Capela beats three Celtics to an offensive rebound. Then Danuel House outhustles everyone for a tip in of a subsequent miss. Stevens immediately called a timeout and proceeded to rip the lack of effort on the glass from his players.
9. It will go unnoticed because the Celtics lost, and because he was ejected, but Marcus Morris played another strong game. He’s the team’s most consistent offensive player outside of Irving and it’s not particularly close. He also has a knack for delivering big plays whenever Boston needs one. After he was ejected late in the fourth quarter, any hope of a comeback went with him.
10. It was a rough night for Jayson Tatum. He was almost invisible, as he scored just four points on 2-of-7 shooting. Tatum has been so good, it’s easy to forget he’s just 20-years old and that young players are prone to some inconsistency. On this play, Tatum turns down a good look at a three-pointer to take an awkward floater in a crowded lane. Given he’s shooting over 38 percent from behind the arc, you’d much rather see Tatum let it fly from deep here.