The Celtics travel to Houston to take on the hottest team in the league. The Houston Rockets have won 14 straight and currently have the best record in the league. The Rockets have won 10 straight at home as well. The Celtics are on a 4 game win streak. The Rockets are 24-6 at home while the Celtics are 21-8 on the road. The Celtics are 16-6 vs the West while the Rockets are 18-5 vs the East.
The Celtics came from 26 down in the first half to beat the Rockets 99-98 at home on December 28th. In the last 7.3 seconds of that game, Marcus Smart drew 2 offensive fouls on James Harden and the Celtics scored 4 points over that span to get the win. The Rockets were missing Chris Paul, Luc Mbah a Moute and Clint Capela in that game.
It was 10 years ago this month on March 18, 2008 that the Celtics stopped Houston’s 22 game win streak with a 94-74 win in Houston. KG, Paul Pierce and Leon Powe all scored 20 or more points. I’m sure those two Celtics’ wins will be fresh on the mind of the Rockets in this game.
After missing the last game, Daniel Theis traveled with the team and according to Brad Stevens is expected to play tonight. Gordon Hayward posted another w workout video and is making progress in his rehab, but remains out for the Celtics. Brandon Wright (knee), Ryan Anderson (hip) and Chinanu Onuaku (nose) are all listed as out for the Rockets.
It should be noted that there are 3 former Celtics on the Rockets’ roster. Former Celtic Gerald Green joined the Rockets in Boston when they played the Celtics the first time this season. Also, they have former Celtic RJ Hunter on their roster. They signed him to a 2-way contract on January 12. Former Celtic, Joe Johnson was also signed after the trade deadline.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (hamstring) probable
Guerschon Yabusele (G-League) questionable
Two Way Players
Probable Rockets Starters
Luc Mbah a Moute
Brandon Wright (knee) out
Ryan Anderson (hip) out
Chinanu Onuaku (nose) out
Two Way Players
Kyrie Irving vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul is averaging 19.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 1.8 steals this season. He is fitting very well with Harden on this team. He missed the first game between these two teams and should make a difference in this one. Kyrie will need to out-play him on both ends of the court.
Jaylen Brown vs James Harden
Harden is the Rockets top player and is averaging 31.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game. In the last game, Brown was out and it was Marcus Smart who was tasked with guarding Harden. Harden scored 34 but in the last 7.3 seconds, Smart got in Harden’s head and drew 2 offensive fouls from him. We will likely see a combination of the two players on him in this game.
Aron Baynes vs Clint Capela
Capela is averaging 14.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game. He is also their rim protector. Baynes has been playing very well and hopefully will continue that in this game.
Marcus Smart vs Eric Gordon
Gordon is averaging 18.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists off the bench and is shooting 33.5% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier will be tasked with slowing Gordon down along with helping on Harden.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to every game. Defense wins games. The Rockets are 2nd in the league in scoring at 113.8 ppg. The Celtics are 21st and averaging 104.1 ppg. The Celtics are still tops in the league with a defensive rating of 101.1 while the Rockets are 9th with a defensive rating of 104.3. The Celtics absolutely need to play hard nose gritty defense. The Celtics need to play tough team defense and limit the Rockets’ scoring if they expect to get a win in this game.
Rebound - In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. They can’t allow the Rockets to own the boards, which will limit the Celtics fast breaks as well as their second chance points. Houston averages 43.5 rebounds while the Celtics average 44.3 rebounds per game. When the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game.
Energy and Aggressiveness - The Celtics need to play physical ball and be aggressive on both ends of the court. They have to come out and play hard from start to finish with no let up. At times it seems that when the Celtics get a lead, they stop being aggressive. They have to be aggressive and they have to play like the team that wants it more for 48 minutes. They can’t let the Rockets get a big lead in this one because they won’t give it back like they did in the first game.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man, but they also must make careful passes and not get careless with the ball. The Rockets average 17.7 points off turnovers, good for 6th in the league. The Celtics can’t give them extra possessions by being careless with their passes or lose focus and allow the Rockets to steal the ball.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing the 1st game of a 3 game road trip. They have to focus on the task at hand and not allow the distractions of the road and a hostile crowd to take them out of the game. The Celtics have played well on the road and hopefully that will continue.
Revenge Factor - I am certain that the Rockets circled this game in the locker room after their loss in December. The Celtics ended the Rockets’ 22 game win streak 10 years ago and they embarrassed them in December by coming back from 26 points down and getting the win. Harden, in particular, will want to get revenge for the way Smart goaded him into 2 offensive fouls in the final seconds of the game. The Celtics have to be ready for the Rockets to come out fired up and for them to play hard throughout the game.