We’re even. After the Celtics stole a home win against the Rockets back in December, Houston returned the favor in a Saturday night showcase. The headline of this game was the Celtics’ bench coming up big on the road. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving combined for 10-for-29 shooting and were a -22 and -17 respectively, but Boston was able to go toe-to-toe with the West’s best with the 2nd unit.
Marcus Morris had 21 points (5-for-7 from behind the arc) in arguably his best game as a Celtic. Marcus Smart continued to show his importance on the floor with a solid 11-6-5. Terry Rozier was lights out with 17 points. All three played solid defense on the Rockets’ back court, but the revelation of the game was Greg Monroe. Outside of Clint Capela, the Rockets don’t have much size in the middle and Moose was able to take advantage in the paint. He pounded the restricted area time and time again on pick-and-rolls and post ups for 18 points.
This was Boston’s game to lose down the stretch and alas, they coughed up an opportunity to beat Houston in what could be a Finals preview. Up six with three and a half minutes to go, Irving missed a relatively easy layup and P.J. Tucker raced down the court for an open 3. The teams traded buckets down the stretch but two costly turnovers and a missed time out on a Horford loose ball sealed the Celtics’ fate. In the closing seconds, Kyrie couldn’t even miss a free throw on purpose.
While Boston couldn’t come up clutch at the end, there are lots of positive takeaways. 1) The Celtics have the defensive wings to match up with the Rockets. Despite getting into early foul trouble, Jaylen Brown’s athleticism and size have James Harden trouble in the half court. 2) Brad Stevens went four deep into his bench and that rotation could be trouble come playoff time. Jayson Tatum looked great from the perimeter and driving the ball and Boston has the size to defend Houston’s rim dives. 3) Long term and wider scope, the Celtics are set up well to go up against the Rockets or Warriors moving forward. They’ve won in defensive battles and shown that they can run with them in offensive shoot outs.